Successful SSI claimants are often dismayed to learn that their back pay awards are payable in installments, rather than in a single lump sum, and that they may have to wait a full year to receive all the back pay owed to them. POMS 02101.020. SSI back pay awards are usually paid in three installments payments spread six months apart. This is different than SSDI back pay awards, which are always paid in single lump sum payments. Fortunately, there are some circumstances in which SSI installment payments can be avoided altogether, or at least somewhat accelerated.
First, no installments are needed when the SSI back pay is less than three times the maximum individual Federal Benefit Rate (including the state supplement). In California, the 2018 maximum individual FBR is $750, and the state supplement is $160.72, for a total of $910.72. Thus, if your back pay award is very small, i.e., less than $910.72 x 3 = $2,732.16, then it can be paid in a lump sum.
Second, even large back pay awards can be paid in full when the claimant’s medical conditions are expected to cause death during the next 12 months. POMS DI 23020.045.
Third, installments are not necessary when the claimant was eligible for SSI in the past, but is no longer eligible, and is likely to remain ineligible for the next 12 months. This situation often occurs in “concurrent claims,” that is, where a claimant applies for both SSI and SSDI benefits, but their SSDI amount is higher than their SSI amount. In this situation, the claimant is entitled to receive SSI only for the five-month waiting period before their SSDI entitlement begins. However, once they start receiving SSDI after five months, since their SSDI amount is higher, they are no longer eligible to receive SSI.
Fourth, if the the claimant can provide documentation of debt relating to medically necessary services, supplies, equipment or medicine; or relating to food, clothing or shelter (including rent, mortgage, property taxes, insurance or utilities), SSA can increase the amounts of the first or second installment payments to cover these debts. This has the effect of somewhat accelerating the back pay award. However, this is only allowed when the debts are not reimbursable by a public program, insurance policy, or another source.
Fifth, if the SSI recipient has current or upcoming expenses related to the purchase of a home or medically necessary services, supplies or equipment, payment of past benefits can also be accelerated.
SSA construes “medically necessary” items broadly. A car to travel to medical appointments, a cell phone to contact medical providers, and a computer to access SSA’s online services are all listed as possible medical necessities.