SSI Benefits: What is Supplemental Security Income?

by Shay Fleming   ·  1 month ago  

It’s not uncommon to be confused about Social Security Insurance (SSI) and if you’re like most people, you have questions: How are SSI benefits different from disability benefits? Do I have to be injured or disabled to receive government assistance? Who is eligible for SSI? If you’re disabled and need government assistance, learn about SSI benefits and what they entail here to determine if this program is right for you.

SSI Benefits Overview: Key Takeaways

  • Supplemental Security Income is the safety net program administered by the Social Security Administration to assist people who are 65 years or older or who are blind or disabled and have limited income and resources.
  • Being disabled is not a prerequisite to collect SSI, though you can collect SSI if you are disabled.
  • When comparing SSI and SSDI benefits, SSDI is provided to disabled individuals with an established work history, while SSI eligibility is entirely based on need.
  • To receive an SSI payment each month, you must complete the required forms and schedule an appointment with the SSA. You will also be required to provide documentation of your disability.
  • There are limits to how much you can have in resources to qualify for SSI income. If you are blind, that limit is $2,590 per month. For everyone else, the resource limit is $1,550 per month. 

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a program provided by the government (the Social Security Administration, or SSA) to people with limited financial resources who are over the age of 65, blind, or disabled. Those who are blind or disabled can be any age to apply and collect SSI income. The benefit of SSI compared to SSDI is that the program is available to people with no work history for the past five years, such as stay at home parents.

How Does SSI Work?

Administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI aims to ensure a basic level of income for those who are unable to work due to age, disability, or blindness, helping them meet their basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Eligibility and benefit amounts are determined based on factors such as income, resources, and living arrangements.

Like so many other government programs, SSI begins with an application. The Social Security Administration administers this program, so you apply to the SSA. If you are approved, you’ll receive money on the first of the month as long as you continue to provide the required information. 

What Does SSI Pay?

SSI payments in 2024 are $943 for an individual, $1,415 for an individual with an eligible spouse and $472 for an essential person. However, if you earn income from other sources, your payments may be reduced based on what you’re earning through those other means.

Generally speaking, the amounts increase each year based on COLA, or the SSA’s Cost of Living Adjustments calculation.

What Other Benefits Can You Get on SSI?

Being approved for SSI benefits means that you may also be eligible for other forms of government assistance. Here are a few programs you either automatically qualify for or may be eligible for:

  • Healthcare Options for SSI Recipients: SSI recipients can usually get Medicaid, which is medial assistance that can be used to pay for doctors bills, prescriptions, hospital stays and other health costs, just like a traditional insurance plan would. 
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): formerly food stamps, now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), this program provides money to purchase qualified food products like fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy and bread. Because SNAP is also based on income, many people who qualify for SSI also qualify for SNAP, and some states even consider the SSI application as an application for SNAP benefits as well. 
  • Federal Housing Benefits and Housing Subsidies: Federal Housing Benefits, such as Section 8 benefits, might also be awarded to those who qualify for SSI. Federal Housing Benefits provide assistance to low-income individuals so they can live in safe, accessible housing despite their income limitations. 
  • Other Available Assistance: Other resources and benefits that might apply to you if you receive SSI include help paying for Medicare, as well as various state and local assistance programs. 

How Do You Qualify for SSI?

To qualify for SSI, you must show that your resources do not exceed the current limit ($2,000 per month if you’re single, $3,000 per month if you’re a couple and both disabled), and you can’t earn more than $1,550 if you’re sighted, or $2,590 if you’re blind.

You must also be over the age of 65, blind, or disabled. Additionally, you must be a United States citizen or national; if you are neither but you are a noncitizen in one of the alien classifications as determined by the Department of Homeland Security, you will also qualify for SSI social security benefits even as an immigrant.

You must also reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands. And finally, you must not be away from the United States for a calendar month (or 30 or more consecutive days). So even if you only take a long vacation and still maintain a home in the United States, this last rule applies.

SSI Resource Limits

To complete your application for the federal SSI benefit, the SSA will evaluate all of your “resources,” which includes cash, real estate, bank accounts, land, vehicles, personal property and stocks, mutual funds and U.S. Savings bonds. It will also include anything else you own that could be converted to cash.

If you are a single person, the total amount of resources you’re allowed to have and still qualify for SSI total $2,000. If you are married, that amount is $3,000 for you and your spouse. 

Proving Disability on SSI

Proving disability on SSI isn’t as difficult as proving disability on SSDI, though you still need to prove your disability prevents you from working or earning a livable income. What’s generally required is a 15 page form called the Adult Disability Report, which is a detailed accounting of your work and health history. In addition, you’ll need to submit medical paperwork from the past year such as medical tests, doctors notes visits, etc. 

Age Requirements for SSI

To qualify for SSD benefits through SSI you must be either 65 years old or older or be blind or disabled. SSI benefits were originally conceived as a way to support low-income seniors, but the program was later expanded to include other disabled individuals of all ages to help support vulnerable Americans who need financial support.

How Do You Apply for SSI?

The process for qualifying for SSI follows a timeline: you will complete an application and have an appointment with the SSA.

The application for SSI is available online and will require that you provide the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number.

If you have an attorney or anyone else helping you, you will be required to provide their name and contact information (phone number and email).

The SSA will evaluate your application based on the resources you’ve disclosed, your age, and other factors, such as disability status. The SSA will contact you within 7-14 days, via mail or email (depending on what contact information you’ve provided), to set an appointment date. This appointment will occur at the SSA office.

Opting to provide an email address instead of a mailing address can speed up how soon you hear back from the SSA.

When Should You Apply for SSI?

Because benefits can only begin after the effective date of your application, the SSA advises applying for SSI benefits as soon as you can.

If you are close to retirement age and disabled, though, it might be better for you to wait and apply for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) instead, because the benefits are higher. Working with an attorney who can help you navigate the nuances of your particular situation can help you determine the best time to apply.

Secure Your SSI Benefits with a Disability Lawyer

Working with a disability attorney can make it significantly easier to qualify for benefits. This is partly because disability attorneys understand the paperwork necessary and how to navigate the system–and statistics show that you can significantly increase your chances of being awarded benefits when you engage a disability attorney right from the start. 

If you’re worried that you can’t hire an attorney because you don’t have the money, don’t—disability attorneys work on contingency, which means that you pay nothing unless you’re awarded benefits, and even then the amount the attorneys are allowed to charge is regulated by the SSA. There is no risk in hiring a disability attorney right from the very beginning.

Unlocking Your SSI Disability Benefits: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the difference between SSI and SSDI?

You must have a substantiated work history to apply for SSDI. The same is not required of SSI. SSDI is for people who have paid social security taxes and have an established work history, while SSI is for people with low income who are either 65 years of age or older, blind, or disabled. SSDI also pays more on average than SSI.

What documents do I need to apply for SSI?

  • An original birth certificate. If you don’t have an original, you can apply for a certified copy (be sure to plan for adequate processing time). If you were not born in the United States you’ll need documentation proving your citizenship.
  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Proof of income (such as payroll stubs or a tax return if you’re self-employed)
  • Proof of resources, such as bank accounts, deeds, insurance policies, burial plots, financial investment information (CDs, mutual funds, bonds, etc), vehicle registrations
  • Proof of living arrangements, like a lease or rent receipt, deed or property tax bill, information about household expenses
  • Work history, like job titles, names of employers, dates of employment, number of hours worked, etc.
  • Medical sources, if you are blind or disabled, like a list of doctors or hospitals, prescription medications, medical reports, etc.
  • Banking information for direct deposit to be set up

Can I work and still receive SSI benefits?

Because SSI is based on your resources, adding an income can change your status with the SSA, meaning you could either start receiving less in benefits or lose your benefits, depending on how much you make. Your first $20 of unearned income is exempt, as is your first $65 of earned income. After that, your benefits will begin to be reduced based on your income.

How much money can I make while receiving SSI benefits?

The more money you make, the less you’ll receive on SSI. Here’s how that might work: the first $20 of all income for the month is disregarded by the SSA. If you work, the SSA disregards the first $65 of that income.

For example, if you make $1,000 per month, the amount of income counted by the SSA is $915. The SSA will disregard half of the remaining earnings, which totals $457.50. This means that your benefits will be reduced by $457.50.

If you collect full SSI benefits and you are not married, the most you can receive is $914 per month. If you are married, that amount is $1,371. Because half of your countable income is used to reduce your benefit amount, 

What happens if my income or living situation changes while receiving SSI benefits?

If your income or living situation changes while receiving SSI benefits, your benefits could be reevaluated, changed or revoked, depending on how your income or living situation affects your total resources. 

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Shay Fleming is the SEO Content Manager at LeadingResponse. A proud graduate of Texas State University, she has been based in Austin since 2016, where she lives with her dog. Shay has contributed extensively to various domains, writing and publishing articles about real estate, investing, disability, and urban living.