When most people think about Social Security, they focus on the retirement benefits that they'll receive at the end of their careers. Yet the Social Security Administration also operates other programs that are essential for millions of Americans. The Supplemental Security Income program is one such benefit that those in financial need can receive if they meet certain income limits.
The SSA just released the SSI benefit amounts for 2018, and they're rising slightly from 2017's levels. For individuals, the SSI federal payment standard amount in 2018 is $750 per month, up $15 from the previous year. Families will see their corresponding amount rise by $22 to $1,125 per month. However, payments vary greatly according to location and your own particular financial situation, and there's a somewhat complicated set of calculations you need to do in order to figure out exactly how much you'll get from Supplemental Security Income. You'll find details below, but first, here are some basics about the SSI program.
What is SSI and who does it cover?
Supplemental Security Income is designed for those for whom regular Social Security benefits are insufficient to meet basic financial needs. Only those with limited income and resources who are 65 or older or are disabled or blind can get SSI. That means that many of those who qualify for SSI also get retirement or disability benefits from Social Security as well.
SSI, however, works differently from regular Social Security. No work history is necessary to get SSI payments, and the program often coordinates with other federal and state programs for those of limited financial means. Because of coordination with states, SSI payments differ across state lines depending on whether a particular jurisdiction adds amounts to the federal standard.
Do I qualify for SSI?
In order to get SSI payments, you have to meet two basic tests: one for financial resources, and one for income. SSI recipients can have a maximum of $2,000 in assets for individuals or $3,000 for families. However, not all of your assets count toward that limit. For instance, you're allowed to own a home, a vehicle for transportation, and ordinary household goods and personal effects, all of which don't count toward the financial resource limit. In addition, special items like life insurance policies, burial funds, and scholarships or grants for educational expenses are also permitted without counting toward the overall maximum.
The income test works differently. Rather than there being an explicit limit, SSI reduces the amount of your monthly payment by the amount of countable income you have. However, countable income doesn't include all of your income. In particular, you're allowed to have the following income without it counting to reduce your SSI benefit:
- The first $20 of most types of income in a month
- The first $65 in earnings each month, and half of earnings above $65
- The value of many benefits, including food stamps, need-based state and local assistance programs, home energy assistance, aid from nonprofit agencies, and disaster assistance
- Income tax refunds
- Interest or dividends on countable financial resources
- Scholarships or other education-related grants or gifts
- Earnings of up to $1,790 per month for students under age 22, subject to a $7,200 per year maximum
This list only covers some of the exclusions. You can find a more comprehensive list at the SSA website.
Any remaining income is countable, and the amount you'll get from SSI is equal to the federal benefit plus any added payment your state might make, less your countable income. So for 2018, if you're an individual living in a state with no supplemental benefit and you have $100 per month in countable income, then you'll get $750 minus $100 or $650 per month from SSI.
Get the benefits you deserve
Supplemental Security Income doesn't pay a huge amount of money, and it's subject to income limits that reduce its impact even further for many people. Nevertheless, for those in need, SSI can be an essential lifeline to make ends meet in retirement. It's worth finding out what you need to know in order to claim the SSI benefits you deserve.