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Will possession of a gift card/certificate affect individual’s Supplemental Security Income?

The answer to the question is: “It Depends.”

The receipt of unearned income during a month will generally result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in Supplemental Security Incomegift_card_and_supplemental_needs_trust benefits (“SSI”); subject only to the $20 exclusion amount.  Whether a gift card/certificate is deemed income depends upon the restrictions placed upon its use.  

The value of a gift card/gift certificate is income in the month it is received if the gift card/certificate: (i) can be used to purchase food or shelter; or (ii) can be resold.  Stated another way, the SSA field agent must conclude that neither statement is accurate in order to exclude the gift card/certificate as income for the month.  Absent evidence to the contrary, the Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) will presume that a gift card/certificate can be resold.  Evidence to the contrary may include a legally enforceable prohibition on resale or transfer of the card imposed by the card issuer/merchant and printed on the card itself.  The restriction on use of a gift card/certificate can be legal, (imposed by the card issuer), or practical, (the store where the card must be redeemed does not sell food or shelter items).

The SSA will evaluate gift card/certificates on a case by case basis to determine whether the restrictions and/or prohibitions are sufficient to exclude its value as income for SSI purposes.  SSA field agents are instructed to accept an individual's statement of the actual value of the gift card/certificate unless they have reason to doubt the allegation. If a SSA field agent doubts the individual’s allegation, the field agent must determine the card’s value by review of: (i) the source of the gift card/certificate; (ii) the purchase receipt; (iii) the vendor’s website; or (iv) the gift card/certificate itself.

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