The State of New Jersey deeply cut Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for over 5,000 low-income New Jersey families starting on January 1, 2011. The Social Security Administration should notify people in writing if the cut will affect them.
The U.S. Social Security Administration runs the SSI program. SSI provides essential cash monthly benefits and medical insurance coverage for people who have very low income and resources, and who are also either disabled, blind, or at least 65 years old.
Not all people who get SSI are affected by the cut. It mostly applies to families that include one person who is eligible for SSI, and a spouse who is not eligible for SSI. Social Security designates these as “category C” beneficiaries. Social Security pays part of the monthly SSI benefit for these families, while the State of New Jersey adds a cash supplement. In January, 2009, Social Security identified 5,790 New Jersey families as falling in this category.
Because New Jersey is reducing its supplement, the total maximum monthly SSI benefit for people in category C, which was $1,036.36, will be cut down to $827, starting in January 2011. People in this category will have their benefits reduced even if they were not getting the maximum monthly SSI amount because of other income. The reduction is typically $209 per month.
Other categories of people who get SSI, such as single individuals, should be unaffected by the cut. They may also have different maximum SSI rates.
There are few legitimate grounds for appeal. However, those believing that the cut was made in error can follow the appeal procedure on their Social Security notice of reduction of benefits.
Families subject to this cut may no longer be able to afford their rent, mortgage, or other fixed expenses. These families need to know about other available help. Some possibilities for help include the following:
- The non-eligible spouse can apply for SSI benefits. If a non-eligible spouse has a disability or is at least 65 years old, he or she might in fact be eligible for SSI. A successful SSI application would allow the family to avoid the cut because they would no longer be in the category (category C) that the cut targets. Local Social Security offices accept applications and can be found by zip code at Social Security Online's Local Office Search page.
- Apply for assistance at the county welfare agency. See County Welfare Agencies (from the Department of Human Services) to find the office in your county. The county welfare agency can screen affected families for other important benefits.
- People entitled to SSI may qualify for Emergency Assistance benefits, which can provide a wide variety of help. For example, temporary rental assistance might help a family retain housing. Families who have lost housing might receive help with moving expenses, a rent deposit, or other assistance, such as utilities, clothing or food. For more information, see Emergency Assistance (from the Department of Human Services).
- General Assistance or TANF welfare benefits. A non-eligible spouse may qualify for welfare programs like General Assistance (if there are no minor children) or TANF (if the family includes minor children). This would provide a cash benefit as well as some medical coverage. For more information, see WorkFirst NJ (NJ's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - TANF) (from the Department of Human Services).
- Food assistance. Even families already receiving food stamps/SNAP may get an increase if their other income was reduced. More information is available at NJ Food Stamps/SNAP (from the Department of Human Services) and End Hunger NJ.
- Screen for eligibility for medical assistance programs. This could be especially important for those losing medical coverage. More information on some of these programs is available at NJ Medicaid (from the Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services).
General Assistance and Emergency Assistance benefits are limited to certain periods of time. However, there are programs that can extend the benefits beyond those limits in certain circumstances. People with questions can ask about these programs at their County Board of Social Services or call the Legal Services of New Jersey hotline at the number listed below for more information and assistance.
- Get information from other sources:
- NJHelps screens people for eligibility for many social service programs.
- NJ211.org is an informational hotline. Visit their Web site or dial 211 from your phone.
- Housing assistance. Low-income people often have great difficulty finding affordable housing in New Jersey. If you cannot retain housing through the programs mentioned above, consider other resources such as the Housing Assistance Program at the NJ State Department of Community Affairs, and the NJ Housing Resource Center. LSNJLAW's Housing section lists some affordable housing resources. A combination of Emergency Assistance (mentioned above) and these resources might offer solutions to those facing possible eviction or homelessness as a result of the state cut.
Families affected by the cut in SSI benefits should apply for any other available programs as soon as possible. This will help reduce harmful shortfalls in income, medical coverage, housing, and food assistance. For more information, call LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline at t 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).