How Living With an Unmarried Partner Affects Your Public Benefits

Learn more about how living with someone may affect your Social Security, welfare, or other public benefits.

By , Attorney Cooley Law School

It's common for people who receive public assistance, like Social Security Disability benefits or welfare subsidies, to worry about what could happen to their benefits if their partner moves in with them. If the government bases your eligibility for assistance on your financial condition and/or physical disability, it's likely that your monthly benefits will not change. However, if you receive state or federal assistance that the government calculates based solely on your income, adding another adult into the household may decrease your monthly benefits.

Social Security Retirement, Supplemental Security Income, and Disability Awards

Social Security Retirement Insurance benefits are available to anyone who meets the work credit requirements and reaches retirement age. Because you pay into the retirement system through your paycheck (or taxes) and individual work history, the government won't reduce your benefits if you live with another adult.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are available to individuals who are disabled and can't work. Before you can receive SSDI, you need to go through a stringent application process to demonstrate that you are unable to work. SSDI is a monthly cash benefit program meant to supplement the income you lose if you become disabled, and your living situation will not change the monthly award unless you reside with a dependent child, in which case the government will likely provide your child with a monthly dependent benefit.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another government-funded benefit available to individuals (or couples) who are both low-income and either disabled, blind, or over the age of 65. Because SSI is based on an applicant's income and qualifying disability, unmarried partners who both qualify individually may receive more benefits than a married couple. For example, unmarried partners who are eligible may receive up to $750 monthly from the SSI program. The maximum available monthly benefit for married couples, however, is only $1,125. If you have a qualifying child, you may also receive up to $376 per month in "essential" person benefits.

Income-Based Benefits

Each state has a variety of income-based benefits, like housing assistance, welfare, and food stamps, that may be impacted if you live with an unmarried partner. Although your state Department of Human Health and Services can't restrict who you live with, it can reduce or eliminate your benefits based on the size of your household or combined income.

For example, if you're a single mother receiving assistance and your child's other parent moves into your home, the state will include both incomes in the reevaluation of your monthly eligibility.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program—Section 9—is a federal program administered by each state. The purpose of the housing program is to provide low-income, disabled, or older individuals and families with affordable housing options. The programs are based on income and household size, so if you apply as an individual and the state approves your application, you will need to update your case file with your local Department of Human Services Department if you would like to add a member to your household. Typically, if you add members to your home, the state will recalculate your benefits using all available income, which may reduce your monthly voucher or benefit.

The Integrity of Federal and State Programs

While all the previously mentioned programs are available to people who qualify, it's important to understand that the benefits available are limited and resources are often low. If you qualified for assistance in the past, but no longer require it, it's crucial that you contact your caseworker to update your file. Additionally, if you have significant changes in your case, like moving in with an unmarried partner, you must inform your local benefits agency to ensure you're receiving the right amount of monthly assistance.

If you fail to update your state agency and your caseworker discovers a change in your situation that would decrease your benefits, you do run the risk of losing your benefits for the failure to update. The local Department of Human Services can open an investigation into your case and depending on the results, you may receive a letter informing you that the state is discontinuing your benefits. You can request a formal hearing to reevaluate the outcome of the investigation.

If you have questions, you should contact your local Department of Human Health and Services.

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