Social Security has long been an important source of income for retirees, and it could become even more so due to the coronavirus. Many workers will be forced to claim benefits earlier than planned if the recession caused by COVID-19 leads to long-term job losses and unexpected early retirement. And other retirees may reduce their investment withdrawals if they lost money in the coronavirus market crash, making them more reliant on Social Security as their investments provide less income. 

If you find yourself relying on Social Security retirement benefits alone, they may not be enough to offer you a comfortable standard of living. But there's another Social Security program that low-income retirees could qualify for to provide some extra money: Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Older couple looking at financial paperwork and using calculator.

Image source: Getty Images.

What is SSI and how does it work?

Supplemental Security Income is a means-tested benefit for lower-income seniors and disabled Americans as well as the vision-impaired. You can get both SSI and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time, but there are a few requirements for SSI benefits, including:

  • Having countable income below $783 per month for individuals or $1,175 per month for couples. Countable income includes money from Social Security retirement benefits, but there are lots of income exclusions, including up to $20 monthly in unearned income, up to $65 per month in earned income plus half of all other earned income above $65, and state or local assistance offered based on financial need. 
  • Having assets below the limit of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 per couple. But again, there are exclusions including the house you live in, one vehicle used for transportation, and life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or less. 

If you meet these basic requirements and are 65 or over, partly or totally blind, or have a long-term disability, you should generally be able to qualify for SSI. It's also important to note that you don't need to have worked for any minimum number of years to get SSI benefits, unlike Social Security retirement benefits. 

How much money does SSI provide?

SSI can provide monthly benefits of up to $783 per person or $1,175 per couple in 2020. And in some states, these federal benefits are supplemented by the state so you'll get more money. On the other hand, if you have some countable income coming in, your monthly benefits may be reduced.  

If you could potentially qualify for SSI benefits, it's worth applying to see if you can supplement your Social Security check. Making do on retirement benefits alone can be difficult, and any extra money you qualify for can have a big impact on your ability to cover necessities in your later years.