By Diane Weinberg

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, every taxpayer who received income in 2018 and 2019 below a certain threshold will receive a direct payment from the federal government. Generally, single taxpayers will receive a rebate of $1,200 ($2,400 for married couples), and eligible individuals will also receive a credit of $500 for each eligible child under age 17. (Congressional Service Insight, IN11290 (https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11290)). Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries are also eligible to receive this benefit.

The question then arises as to how Social Security will treat this benefit for the purpose of SSI eligibility. Social Security has stated that this supplemental payment will not count as income in the month received or as a resource for the next 12 months. This means that an SSI recipient can use this $1,200 for items that the recipient may otherwise be unable to afford and that are not covered by Medicaid, such as clothing, dental care, and new glasses.

The IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA) have been engaged in discussions as to how to ensure SSI beneficiaries receive this payment.  (https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2020/04/10/stimulus-checks-automatic-unless-ssi/28134/)  Again, the stimulus payments automatically are made to taxpayers, and most SSI recipients do not file taxes. SSI beneficiaries who filed a federal income return in 2018 or 2019 will automatically receive this CARES stimulus payment. As of this writing, if an SSI beneficiary did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019, and does not qualify for the 2019 form SSA-1099 option, then that SSI beneficiary will need to complete the online form found at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.  The discussions as to the best method to reach SSI recipients are ongoing.

Individuals who receive the following benefits do not need take any action to receive the stimulus check: SSDI benefits, Social Security Retirement benefits, Social Security survivor benefits, and Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits.

A related question is how the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) will treat these supplemental CARES payments for purposes of Medicaid eligibility generally. At the time of this writing, DCH has not issued guidance on this issue. With some exception, the rules for eligibility for Georgia Medicaid mimic the Social Security rules and regulations governing SSI eligibility. Thus, I suspect that Georgia Medicaid will also exclude CARES payments as income in the month received and as a resource for 12 months after its receipt. We will keep you informed as additional information is received.

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In other news, on February 25, 2020, new Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations became effective that allow an individual to designate his or her own representative payee. A representative payee is the only person with whom SSA will speak with on behalf of an incapacitated Social Security beneficiary; SSA will not work with agents under a Financial Power of Attorney or Advance Directive for Healthcare. Currently, if a beneficiary becomes incapacitated, someone (i.e., a family member or friend) must contact the SSA on that beneficiary’s behalf and request that the SSA appoint a representative payee. The SSA then conducts an investigation to determine 1) whether the beneficiary is incapacitated, and 2) who that representative payee should be.

The challenge that Social Security has encountered is that it does not know who the beneficiary trusts to act as her representative payee and whether that person is indeed trustworthy. Often, SSA gets caught in family disputes in which multiple relatives contact SSA requesting to become the representative payee. SSA does not know whether the person seeking to become the representative payee is the beneficiary’s responsible caregiver or a mere acquaintance with a gambling problem.

Under Section 201 of the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018, current and future Social Security beneficiaries can designate their proposed representative payees. Designations may be submitted in multiple forms – in writing, in person, by telephone, or by submitting that information electronically at the Social Security portal. Designations can be revised or withdrawn at any time. The SSA will send annual notices to beneficiaries reminding them of who they have designated as their representative payees.

For more information, check out the link to the Federal Register at:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/02/11/2020-02409/advance-designation-of-representative-payees-for-social-security-beneficiaries.

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