Given the tight space between subsistence and penury in which SSI recipients are often required to exist it is something of a peculiarity of the SSI program that there’s a specific policy that can appear to leave beneficiaries bereft at the very moment they have the greatest need, whilst allowing them excesses during times of plenty. That policy comes in the shape of Retrospective Monthly Accounting (RMA).

In its simplest form the RMA means that the SSI check a beneficiary receives each month is based on her earnings from two months earlier. Therefore, the check she received in January is calculated based on the income she had the previous November; the check she got in February is calculated based on her income back in December; and so it goes on. As indicated in the opening paragraph, for someone with fluctuating income there are quite clear positives and negatives to this policy. If an SSI beneficiary, after having had no income apart from her SSI check for a few months, got a part time job in September making $385 she would end up having a nice little bump in her income that month as she’d have her earnings and also receive the full SSI check of $750 (as she had no other income in July). That’s certainly all very positive. Then there’s the rub: If that job doesn’t work out and she quits before earning anything in October, she’s going to be back to living off just the $750 check in October, but in November she’s going to have to live off solely $600 in SSI (as the $385 she earned in September would be mean she had countable income of $150).

RMA throws in some variables after that.

If, one month, an SSI recipient has income or resources which makes her ineligible for an SSI check Social Security will make sure that she doesn’t get the check that very month- there’s no two month delay this time.

If someone’s been ineligible for SSI for a while and then becomes eligible again (for instance she may have had excess resources but then opened an ABLE account and put the excess in there) there’s a slight change in the rules. Her SSI amount for the first three months of eligibility is calculated based on her income in the first month she became eligible. If she had no income in the first month she’ll get $750 for three months even if she has earnings in months. two and three. 

Finally, if someone also receives SSDI the nearly annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is counted right away. Again, as with the ineligibility question, there’s no two month delay.

To conclude, RMA is a procedure whereby the amount of SSI a beneficiary receives in any one month is based on a calculation of the beneficiary’s income from two months earlier, except for a few exceptions when it isn’t.