How Living With an Unmarried Partner Affects Your Public Benefits

Here's how living with someone may affect your Social Security, welfare, or other public benefit.

People who receive public benefits often worry that they will be cut off if their partner moves in. If you receive benefits based on your financial condition and a physical or mental condition—aid to the aged, blind, or disabled, for example—you don’t risk any loss. Broadly speaking, these programs function like Social Security—once you qualify, you’re largely left alone. When it comes to benefits based on financial condition alone (and not on a physical condition), however, living with someone may affect your food stamp eligibility or the amount of aid you receive. This issue usually arises when a woman with children who is receiving welfare wants to live with her boyfriend. In large part because the federal government now delegates welfare rules to the states, which in turn are experimenting with all sorts of policies, the best advice we can give you is to call your local social service department and make sure you understand the rules that affect you.

Depending on where you live, here is what you may find:

• Cash contributions made by a living together partner may reduce the amount of a welfare grant—but it can depend on how much is contributed and the purpose of the contribution.

• Contributions towards household expenses—such as paying the rent or buying the food—made by someone you are living with will not affect the amount of your grant.

• In a few states, a legal responsibility for all living together partners to contribute to the so-called “Welfare Unit” is presumed. This means if you live with someone in these states, your welfare grant will be reduced even if the person doesn’t, in fact, chip in on expenses.

• If you have registered as domestic partners, you may have signed a statement saying you will provide for one another. This could, in theory, be used to deny one of you public benefits, especially if the other person earns substantial income.

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