In 1972, Congress enacted the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to ensure that disabled and blind individuals, as well as low-income elderly persons, would have a minimum level of income.
The program replaced several existing programs that were funded through federal grants-in-aid to the states. The need for SSI arose from the fact that many disabled and elderly persons were living in poverty despite the fact that they were eligible for Social Security benefits.
What is the Supplemental Security Income?
Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a program that provides financial assistance to low-income individuals who are aged, blind, or otherwise disabled. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is funded by general tax revenue rather than Social Security taxes.
SSI was established in 1972 and began in 1974. The SSI program is intended to supplement the income of elderly or disabled individuals and help them to cover the costs of basic living expenses such as food, shelter, and clothing. The benefits can also be used to pay for other items, such as transportation, personal care items, and medical expenses.
Some states supplement the federal SSI benefit with additional payments. SSI benefits are not considered taxable income. However, Supplemental Security Income recipients are required to report any changes in their income or resources to the SSA. Failure to do so may result in overpayment of benefits, which must be paid back to the SSA.
Who is eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
There are three primary groups of people who are eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI): those who are 65 or older, those who are blind, and those who are disabled.
SSI benefits are not just for people who are completely unemployed. Individuals who are working but still have a limited income may also be eligible for SSI. In fact, many people who receive SSI benefits do some kind of work on a regular basis.
If you’re a senior citizen above 65 that finds themselves frequently looking for senior discounts just to make ends meet, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income.
If that’s your case, read the income limits and resource requirements to make sure you can receive benefits and apply for SSI online or in person.
People With Disability
To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income for disability, a person must first meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of “disabled.” This definition is quite strict:
Individuals aged 18 and above are considered disabled only if they have a condition, either physical or mental, that is stopping them from going to work.
Moreover, the person’s disability must be expected to last for at least one year or ultimately result in death.
Children or individuals under 18 whose parents earn a low income or have fewer resources are also eligible for SSI. In such cases, the SSA requires that the physical or mental disability of the child be severe enough to result in “marked and severe functional limitations” and must be expected to last for 12 months or result in death.
People Who Are Blind
To be considered blind by the Social Security Administration, a person must have a limited visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better eye or vision less than or equal to 20/200 even with the help of eyeglasses.
However, the SSA can still consider a person to have a qualifying disability even if their eyesight isn’t bad enough that they qualify as ‘blind.’
General Income & Resources Limits
If a person is determined to be eligible for SSI, they will then need to meet the program’s income and resource requirements. Income requirements for SSI are based on the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). In 2022, the highest amount of SSI is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple, while the same in 2023 has already been set to $914 and $1,371, respectively.
The amount of SSI benefits an individual receives is based on their countable income and resources. The Social Security Administration considers an individual’s living arrangements when determining their benefit amounts. For example, if an individual lives with someone who pays for their food and shelter, their benefits will be reduced.
There are two types of income that are considered by the Social Security Administration when determining eligibility for the program and the amount of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The first is earned income, which is money you receive for work you do. The second is unearned income, which is money you receive from sources other than work, such as investments, pensions, or Social Security.
To be eligible for SSI, your earned and unearned income must fall below a certain level. If you are eligible for SSI, the amount of your monthly benefit will be based on your countable income.
Your countable income is your total earned and unearned income minus certain deductions. If you have a countable income that is above the SSI limit, you will not be eligible for benefits.
If you have a countable income that is below the SSI limit, your benefits will be reduced by a proportional amount. For example, if your countable income is $400, your SSI benefit will be reduced by $400.
This is because of the maximum SSI benefit of $841 that an individual can receive.
- Earned Income: Earned income includes money you receive for work you do. It can come from a job, self-employment, or some other type of work. If you have a job, your earned income includes your wages, tips, and other forms of compensation. If you are self-employed, your earned income might include the net profit you make from your business after deducting business expenses or royalties and honoraria you might be receiving.
- Unearned Income: Unearned income includes money you receive from sources other than work. It can come from investments, pensions, Social Security, or other sources. If you have unearned income, your SSI benefit may be reduced.
Certain types of income are not counted at all when determining SSI eligibility or benefit amount. A few of the notable things that aren’t considered income by the SSA are:
- Any earned or unearned income above $20 per month, barring a few exceptions.
- If you receive no unearned income, then the first $85 of your earned income per month and one-half of the rest income are not considered under income. However, if you receive unearned income, that amount drops to $65 and one-half of the income earned above $65.
- If someone else pays your bills for things other than food and shelter.
- If you receive need-based assistance for food, shelter, and home energy from a non-government organization certified by the state.
- If you participate in a clinical trial, the first $2,000 you earn from it each year.
- If a person is blind, then any cost incurred in their work expense.
- If you are an individual under the age of 22 who is regularly attending a school or training program, then your earnings up to $2,040 per month (restricted to $8,230 per year in 2022).
An individual is only eligible for SSI if their income and resources are below a certain limit. For 2021, the resource limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Countable resources include things like cash, bank accounts, stocks, and bonds.
There are a few exceptions to the resource requirements for SSI. For example, a person’s home in which they are living and vehicle are not counted as resources for SSI purposes. Other things that are not counted as resources include burial plots for a person or their immediate family members and property needed for an individual’s self-support, such as property used in a trade or business or property used to produce essential goods and services.
Residence and Citizenship Rules
Including children with a qualifying disability of military personnel and students who are temporarily abroad, any US citizens living in the 50 states of the US, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands can receive Supplemental Security Income.
In some instances, non-US citizens and sponsored noncitizens can also get SSI. However, the Social Security Administration considers Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa to be outside the United States for SSI purposes. People who even move to these locations from other locations within the United States can’t claim SSI benefits.
Furthermore, if an individual is receiving SSI benefits but moves out of the SSA-defined geographical area of the United States for more than 30 consecutive days, their SSI payments will stop. Such payments will only resume once they have lived in the SSA-defined geographical area of the United States for more than 30 consecutive days.
How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
You or someone on your behalf can apply for your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits both online and offline. Here is how you can supply for SSI offline or directly if you can’t apply for it online:
- You can call the Social Security Administration toll-free at 1-800-772-1213, and they will set an appointment for you at your local Social Security office.
- If you suffer from a hearing disability or are deaf, you can call the SSA at their Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) number at 1-800-325-0778, and they will set an appointment for you.
Please note that parents of children under the age of 18 who are blind or have a disability can apply on their behalf. In some instances, even third parties can apply on behalf of children.
How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Online?
Here’s how you can apply for SSI online:
- You can visit the SSA website at www.ssa.gov/benefits/ssi and complete a large portion of your application on the website itself, after which the SSA will get in touch with you.
- Individuals who cannot complete the application process online by themselves or need guidance in the application process can visit www.ssa.gov/benefits/ssi/start.html and fill out a basic form that will let the SSA know that you are interested in applying for SSI.
- Additionally, individuals who want to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance along with SSI can do so by visiting this webpage www.ssa.gov/disability.
How Will You Receive Your SSI Benefits?
If the SSA approves your application for Supplemental Security Income, you will have to receive the benefits electronically compulsorily. The SSA currently makes electronic benefit transfers through three mediums:
- Direct Express® card program
- Electronic Transfer Account
- Direct Deposits
What if Your SSI Application is Rejected?
If you apply for Supplemental Security Income and are denied the benefits for any reason, you can appeal the decision. You can handle your appeal case on your own and can even get free help from SSA regarding the same.
Though you have the right to be represented by someone in your appeal case, there are specific rules pertaining to who can represent you and what they can do. If you want to know more about your right to representation, who can represent you, or any other questions regarding representation, you can find more information at: www.ssa.gov/representation.
The Bottom Line
SSI is a needs-based program, meaning that benefits will be paid to you only if you can demonstrate financial need. In order to qualify for SSI, an individual must have countable income and resources that fall below a certain threshold. Countable income includes earnings from employment, as well as other forms of income such as interest and dividends.
Resources are things like bank accounts, real estate, and personal property. In January 2022, the average federal SSI payment was $624 per month for an individual and $1,223 per month for a couple. Additionally, the highest federal SSI payment in 2022 was $841 per month for an individual and $1,261 for a couple.