The Social Security Administration administers the Supplemental Security Income program – SSI -- which paid benefits in 2010 to 7.5 million aged, disabled and blind individuals with limited income and resources. If a husband and wife are both eligible for SSI, Social Security combines all income and resources and compares them to special limits for couples to determine eligibility and payment amount. In 2010, 260,598 SSI recipients were members of an eligible couple.
Couple Benefit Computations
Social Security uses the couple-computation method when both individuals are eligible for SSI and are legally married according to their state’s law. Social Security also considers two recipients a couple if they present themselves to the community as married by stating they are married on rental agreements, insurance policies or in statements to friends and neighbors. Social Security combines the couples' income and subtracts it from the federal benefit rate for a couple -- $1,011 in 2010 if they live in their own household, or $674 if the couple lives in another person’s household and does not contribute an equal share of the household expenses. Each couple member does not receive any income exclusions, the SSA applies one exclusion per couple.
Earned Income Maximum
Social Security combines all earned income for both members of the couple, and then applies two possible exclusions to the total. A general exclusion of $20 applies to any kind of income such as pensions. If the only income is earnings from work, the general exclusion reduces the countable earnings. Next, an earned income exclusion of $65 reduces earnings the SSA will use to figure benefits. The SSA deducts half the remainder from the federal benefit rate for couples -- $1,011 if the couple live in their own household. Combined earnings of $2,107 would reduce the SSI to zero.
Unearned Income Maximum
Unearned income is income other than wages or net profit from self employment, such as Social Security, pensions and cash gifts. Social Security deducts $20 monthly from income before using it to figure SSI benefits. If a couple each receive Social Security benefits of $450, the SSA adds them together and subtracts the $20 exclusion, leaving countable income of $880. The total SSI payable to the couple is $131, or $65.50 each. Non-work income of $1,031 reduces SSI payable to a couple living in their own household to zero.
Couples in Another's Household
If an eligible SSI couple live in another person's household and do not contribute an equal share to the household expenses -- rent or mortgage, food and basic utilities -- the SSI rate is one-third lower, $674 total. Lower wages and non-work income reduces benefits to zero. Combined wages of $1,433, or combined unearned income of $694, would make the couple ineligible for SSI in 2010.
State Supplement Involved
Some states supplement the basic federal benefit amount. Couples living in fifteen states, including Hawaii, California, Nevada, Utah and New York, can earn more than in non-supplement states and still receive some SSI money. A California couple living in a dwelling which they rent or own receive an extra $396.20 monthly from California, a total of $1, 407.20. The couple would need combined wages of $2,899.40, or non-work income of $1,427.20, to reduce their SSI payment to zero.
- Social Security Online: Supplemental Security Income
- Social Security Online: 2010 Annual Statistical Supplement: Eligible Couples
- Social Security Online: 2010 Annual Report of the Supplemental Security Income Program
- Social Security Online: Programs Operations Manual System: Retrospective Computations of Benefits
- Social Security Online: Programs Operations Manual System: State Supplemental Programs
- Social Security Online: 2010 Update
Jane Amar received a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish language and literature from the University of California in Riverside in 1970. After more than 37 years in government service in management and technical positions, she retired and began her writing career. Since 2007 she has written online content in English and Spanish for profit and nonprofit services and individual entrepreneurs.