What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) by Daniel Vujinovic

In this article “What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)” you will learn the ins and outs of the program in depth.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program run by the Social Security Administration since 1974. 

SSI is a means-tested federal welfare program that provides cash assistance to individuals residing in the United States who are either aged 65 or older, blind, or disabled. 

Don’t get SSI confused with SSDI. While many people don’t distinguish between SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), they are two completely different governmental programs.

When To Start Social Security Benefits by Daniel Vujinovic

While both programs are overseen and managed by the Social Security Administration, and medical eligibility for disability is determined in the same manner for both programs, there are distinct differences between the two programs.

Quick Look @ SSDI?

SSDI applicants must be younger than 65 and have earned a certain number of “work credits”. After receiving SSDI for two years, a SSDI disabled person will become eligible for Medicare.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is funded through social security payroll taxes. SSDI recipients are considered “insured” because they have worked for a certain number of years and have made contributions to the Social Security trust fund in the form of FICA Social Security taxes.

SSDI is an EARNED benefit that focuses on physical and mental impairments that are severe enough to prevent people from engaging in their normal occupations or any other work. 

The impairment must be expected to last for at least twelve months or to end in death. 

SSDI benefits can be paid to blind or disabled workers and, like Social Security retirement benefits, to their children, to their widows or widowers, and to those adults who haven’t worked but have been disabled since childhood.

Let's Go Back Into SSI?

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have very limited income and assets. SSI benefits are also payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. 

SSI is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes. It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled individuals who have little or no income and it provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

SSI Qualifications & Benefits

Eligibility: A disabled or blind adult or child must meet all of the following categories:

• Have limited income
• Have limited resources
• Be a U.S. citizen or national, or legal alien
• Live in the United States or Northern Mariana Islands

Payment: The monthly payment is based on need and varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate. Some states add money to federal SSI payments.

Medical Coverage: In most states, beneficiaries are automatically eligible for Medicaid.

In order to be classified as a non-citizen qualified alien, according to the Department of Homeland Security, individuals must fit into one of the following categories: 

  • Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence in the US 
  • Granted conditional entry under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Parole into the US under the INA for a period of at least one year
  • Refugee admitted to the US under the INA; 
  • Granted asylum under the INA; 
  • Deportation is or removal is being withheld under the INA; and
  • “Cuban or Haitian entrant” under the Refugee Education Assistance Act. 

In addition, the individual can be “deemed” a qualified alien if, under certain circumstances, themselves, their child(ren), or their parent(s) has been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by a family member while in the United States.

SSI Maximum Benefits

Generally, the maximum federal SSI benefit changes annually. For 2018, the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) is $750 for an individual and $1,125 for couples. 

Some states, however, supplement the federal SSI benefit with additional payments. This makes the total SSI benefit levels higher in those states. SSI benefit amounts and state supplemental payment amounts vary based upon income, living arrangements, and other factors.

SSI Income & Assets Qualifications

Claimants may be eligible for SSI benefits if their resources are worth no more than $2,000. A couple may be eligible for SSI benefits if they have resources worth no more than $3,000. If the claimant owns property that he or she is trying to sell, they may be able to get SSI while trying to sell it. However, again, not all assets are counted.

SSI does NOT count the following as assets:

  • Primary residence and the land it sits on.
  • Household goods & personal effects.
  • Burial spaces for the claimant and the immediate family.
  • Up to $1,500 (for the claimant) and $1,500 (for the claimant’s spouse) in burial funds.
  • Life insurance policies with face values of $1,500 or less.
  • One vehicle, regardless of value, if it is used for transportation for the claimant or a member of the household.
  • Retroactive SSI or Social Security benefits for up to nine months after receiving them (including payments received in installments.
  • Grants, scholarships, fellowships, or gifts set aside to pay educational expenses for nine months after receipt.
  • Up to $100,000 of funds in an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account established through a state ABLE program.

What Counts As SSI Income & SSI Assets

SSI is based on your Income & Assets so it’s important to know what Social Security will count. 

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Paperwork

Income, for the purposes of SSI, includes the following.

Earned Income — Wages, net earnings from self-employment, certain royalties, honoraria, and sheltered workshop payments.

Unearned Income — Income that is not earned such as Social Security benefits, pensions, state disability payments, unemployment benefits, interest income, dividends and cash from friends and relatives.

In-Kind Income — Food or shelter received for free or less than its fair market value.

Deemed Income — Part of the income of a spouse with whom the claimant lives, parent(s) with whom the claimant lives, or their sponsor (if they are an alien), which is used to compute the SSI benefit amount.

Social Security does NOT count all income when deciding whether that person qualifies for SSI benefits. For example, Social Security does not count:

  • The first $20 a month of most income the claimant receives.
  • The first $65 a month earned from working and half the amount over $65 in a month.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.
  • Income tax refunds.
  • Home energy assistance.
  • Assistance based on need funded by a state or local government, or an Indian tribe.
  • Small amounts of income received irregularly or infrequently.
  • Interest or dividends earned on countable resources or resources excluded under other federal laws.
  • Grants, scholarships, fellowships or gifts used for tuition and educational expenses.
  • Food or shelter the claimant may be receiving from private nonprofit organizations.
  • Loans (cash or in-kind) that you have to repay.
  • Money someone else spends to pay the claimant’s expenses for items other than food or shelter (e.g., someone pays the claimant’s telephone or medical bills).
  • Income set aside under a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS).
  • Earnings up to $1,820 per month to a maximum of $7,350 per year (effective January 2018) for a student under age 22.
  • The cost of impairment-related work expenses for items or services that a disabled person needs in order to work.
  • The cost of work expenses that a blind person incurs in order to work.
  • Disaster assistance.
  • The first $2,000 of compensation received per calendar year for participating in certain clinical trials.
  • Refundable federal and advanced tax credits received on or after January 1, 2010; and
  • Certain exclusions on Indian trust fund payments paid to American Indians who are members of a federally recognized tribe.

Even though the claimant’s assets and income determine benefits, not all income is considered and not all assets are considered. 

  • If the claimant is married, part of the spouse’s income and resources may be counted as income. 
  • If the claimant is under age 18, part of the claimant’s parents’ income and resources may be counted as well. 
  • If the claimant is a sponsored non-citizen, Social Security may include the claimant’s sponsor’s income and resources. 
  • If the claimant is a student, some of the wages or scholarships the claimant receives may not count. 
  • If the claimant is disabled but is still working, Social Security does not count wages used to pay for items or services that help the claimant work. For example, if the claimant needs a wheelchair, the wages used to pay for the wheelchair do not count as income for qualification purposes.

How To Apply For SSI?

You can apply for SSI benefits by:

Visiting Apply Online for Disability Benefits website to start the disability application process online. You may be eligible to apply for SSI through the online disability application.

small blue and black arrowCalling 1-800-772-1213 (or TTY 1-800-325-0778 if you are deaf or hard of hearing) and making an appointment to apply for SSI benefits. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, we also will take your telecommunications relay services (TRS) assisted calls at 1-800-772-1213.

With an appointment, a representatives will help you apply for benefits. You can have an appointment to apply for SSI benefits on the telephone or in person at your local Social Security office.

small blue and black arrowHaving someone else call and make the appointment for you or assist you with your application for SSI. For more information, please read the social security chapter on HOW SOMEONE CAN HELP YOU WITH YOUR SSI; or

small blue and black arrowVisiting your local Social Security office to apply without making an appointment, but please anticipate a longer wait time.

When To Apply For SSI?

Apply as soon as possible so that you do not lose benefits. The program cannot pay benefits for time periods earlier than the effective date of your application.

If you call to make an appointment to apply and you file an application within 60 days of the call, the date of your call will be used as your application filing date.

If you do not keep this appointment and you do not contact them to reschedule the appointment, they will try to contact you. If they do not get in touch with you to reschedule the appointment, they will send you a letter. The letter will say that if you file an application within 60 days from the date of the letter, they will use the date of your original contact with us as your SSI application date.

If you are in a public institution but you will be leaving within a few months, you may not be eligible for SSI until you leave. You may, however, be able to apply before you leave so that SSI benefits can begin quickly after you leave. Check with the institution and contact us about filing an application under the “prerelease procedure.”

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