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Property Essential to Self Support (PESS): The Forgotten SSI Work Incentive


The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) countable resource limit hasn’t increased a dollar since the original Ghostbusters topped the box office and Daley Thompson won the decathlon at the Los Angeles Olympics (1984 in case you’re wondering). It’s resolutely stuck at $2000 for an individual and $3000 for an eligible couple.

Despite that fact being disheartening to all concerned, we might allow Social Security some leeway in noting that not all resources are countable. While we can now set up ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts, and you can even , should you choose, have a burial fund up to $1500, there also remains the little-known, little-considered break called Property Essential to Self Support (PESS).

PESS is both a work incentive and an acknowledgement that beneficiaries should be allowed to eke out something of a living without beingĀ  punished financially. There are essentially three examples where the PESS comes into play. As a work incentive it forgives a self-employed SSI recipient by determining that the value of the property and tools that he or she may use for work are not to be considered as resources. The cash used in the operation of the business is also excluded. Of course, the business has to be functioning in some capacity for those allowances to be made.

PESS is also relevant for those who aren’t self-employed or even working. Social Security will consider as Property Essential to Self Support land or livestock which someone uses to put food on his family’s table, as well as non-business income-producing property such as a rental property. There’s a little catch there, as they actually only exclude up to $6000 of the equity value of those properties, but at least that’s higher than the paltry amount allowed in your bank account.