Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is designed to provide income to people with a disability who have limited income and resources. For those who qualify, Social Security SSI provides a monthly payment of up to $733 to an individual, or up to $1,100 to a couple, in addition to supplements paid to residents of most states. Eligibility for SSI depends on four main factors -- disability, resources, income, and citizenship.
This is a broad use of the term disability. For SSI qualification purposes, there are three ways to meet this requirement.
- If you're age 65 or older
- If you're blind -- defined by the Social Security Administration as having visual acuity of 20/200 or less in your better eye with use of a corrected lens, or a visual field of no greater than 20 degrees.
- If you're disabled -- For adults, this means that you have a medically determinable mental or physical impairment that makes you unable to do any substantial gainful activity and can be expected to result in death or has lasted or will last for more than 12 months. There is a slightly different definition for children under 18 -- instead of defining a disability as being unable to do gainful activity, it is defined as marked and severe functional limitations.
What are "limited resources"?
In order to be eligible for SSI, you must have limited resources, which means less than $2,000 for individuals and children, or $3,000 for a couple.
For the purposes of qualifying for SSI, resources include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- Bank accounts and investments
- Personal property
- Life insurance
- Anything else that could potentially be converted into cash
However, resources do not include the home and land where you live, life insurance with a face value of less than $1,500, your own car, a burial plot you own, and up to $1,500 in burial funds.
How does your other income affect eligibility?
If you receive additional income, it can affect your ability to collect SSI.
If the income you receive is from working, the first $65 per month you earn will have no effect on your eligibility for SSI benefits. Above this amount, your benefits will be reduced by half of the amount you earn. For example, if you earn $500 per month from a part-time job, your SSI benefit can be reduced by half of the amount above $65, which works out to a $217.50 monthly reduction.
If the income is from a source other than work, the same reduction rule applies, but only the first $20 per month in other income is exempted. This includes money you receive from Social Security, workers' compensation, unemployment, Veterans Affairs, and money you're given by friends and relatives.
There are certain types of income that are not counted when determining eligibility for SSI. For example, SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) are not counted as income, nor is any home energy assistance or shelter you receive from private nonprofit organizations. In addition, any wages you earn that are used to pay for items or services that help you work are not counted. For example, if you use money you've earned to buy a wheelchair that helps you get around at work, that amount of money won't be considered for benefit reduction purposes.
If you're married, some of your spouse's income can be taken into consideration, and if you're under 18, some of your parent's income can be used to determine your eligibility. And, if you're a student, certain scholarships and income may not count as income to reduce your benefits.
In addition to the requirements discussed above, SSI recipients must be U.S. citizens or qualified aliens, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security.
If you meet the qualified alien criteria, you also have to meet one of the five conditions that allow qualified aliens to collect SSI.
- You were receiving SSI and legally residing in the U.S. on Aug. 22, 1996.
- You're a Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) with 40 qualifying quarters of earnings.
- You're currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, or are an honorably discharged veteran.
- You were residing in the U.S. legally on Aug. 22, 1996, and you're blind or disabled.
- If you're in certain categories, such as a refugee admitted to the U.S., you may receive SSI for a maximum of seven years from the date qualified alien status was granted.
For the complete details of these requirements, or if you're not sure if any of them apply to you, refer to the SSA's full eligibility criteria.
Who is not eligible for SSI
There are some groups of people who are not eligible for SSI, even if the other requirements are met.
People with unsatisfied felonies or arrest warrants are ineligible for benefits, as are those currently incarcerated (including halfway houses). Most people who are in a government-run public institution are ineligible for benefits while living there.
Additionally, people who give away their resources, or sell things for less than they're worth just to qualify for SSI are deemed ineligible for up to 36 months.
And finally, if a non-citizen SSI recipient loses their eligible alien status, or if a SSI recipient leaves the U.S. for 30 days or more, they will no longer be eligible for benefits until their status changes.
How to apply
Finally, anyone can apply for SSI, and most of the application can be filled out online at www.socialsecurity.gov. When you go to a Social Security office to complete the application process, you should have your:
- Social Security card
- Birth certificate
- Information about your living situation (mortgage or lease)
- Payroll slips, bank statements, insurance policies, and burial fund records
- Contact information for doctors and clinics you've visited
- Proof of U.S. citizenship
- Your checkbook, or other papers that list your bank account numbers.