Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is one of four distinct Social Security programs operated by the Social Security Administration of the United States of America. This benefit can be a lifesaver for low income families because it is provides a monthly cash payment.
Of course, like any government program, SSI has strict rules and regulations. Let’s talk about what this program is, how it works, and how you can start getting the benefits you need.
What is SSI?
SSI is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a supplemental payment designed to help low income American adults and children who are living with a disability. It’s not enough to live on by itself but it supplements, or adds a little extra, to whatever you already have.
The program is administered by the Social Security Administration, but it is different than Social Security Retirement or Social Security Disability. Those programs have completely different rules.
How much will SSI pay?
As of 2023, the current award amount is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple. Some states add an additional supplement to that amount, which helps you get even more.
According to the Social Security Administration, there are only six states that do not pay a supplement to residents who receive SSI. These include Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia. Northern Mariana Islands also does not pay a supplement.
Who is eligible for SSI?
SSI is available for adults and children who are living with a disability and who meet income limits. The criteria depends on whether an adult or child is applying for benefits.
Adult Eligibility Requirements
In order to be eligible for SSI, the adult must be blind OR have a disability OR be age 65 or older. Only one of those three things must be true in order to satisfy this requirement.
Generally, Social Security defines a disability as a medical condition that is severe and has lasted (or is expected to last) at least one year or result in death. The medical condition must prevent you from doing the same work that you used to do, and it must also prevent you from doing other work instead.
In addition to being either blind, disabled or age 65+, adults must also meet income limits, resource limits, citizenship requirements, and live in an eligible area.
Eligible areas include the 50 US states, Washington DC, and the Northern Mariana Islands. SSI is unfortunately not available in Puerto Rico, Guam or the Virgin Islands. The only exceptions are if the applicant is the child of military parents who are assigned to permanent duty outside the US or if the applicant is a student temporarily living outside of the United States.
Children’s Eligibility Requirements
In order to be eligible for SSI, the child must be under age 18 and have a disability. The disability can be physical or mental, but it must seriously limit the child’s daily activities for a period of 12 months or more. Terminal conditions do not have to meet the 12 month requirement.
Additionally, children must live in households that meet the income and resource limits.
What are the resource and income limits?
As of 2023, an individual’s income limits are $1,913 per month in gross wages or net self-employment income. Gifts, pensions and other income sources cannot total more than $934 per month. In addition, an individual can only have $2,000 in total countable resources.
Couples have higher limits. In 2023, a couple’s income limits are $2,827 per month in gross wages or net self-employment income. Gifts, pensions and other income sources cannot total more than $1,391 per month. Couples are limited to $3,000 in total countable resources.
Countable resources do not include ABLE accounts, burial funds or certain trusts. They also don’t count the home you own, your wedding rings or household goods, or the vehicle you drive. Resources typically means cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, or other assets that could be easily converted into cash.
There are strict penalties for people who sell resources for less than their value in order to bypass these rules. If you, your spouse or co-owner donate, give away, or sell a countable resource for less than its value, then you could lose your benefits for up to 3 years! The duration of the penalty depends on what the resource was.
How do I apply for SSI?
There are several ways to apply for SSI benefits. You can request an appointment so that someone from the Social Security Administration can help you apply for benefits. Alternatively, if you are age 64 or under, you can complete your application online.
Regardless of which method you choose, it’s important to make sure you have all the documentation that you will need to complete your application.
The Social Security Administration recommends having the following documentation ready when you complete your application:
- Social Security Number
- Birth Certificate
- Citizenship Record (if different than birth certificate)
- Proof of Income
- Proof of Resources
- Lease / Rent Receipt / Mortgage Payment / Property Tax Bill
- Household Information (names, birth dates, Social Security numbers for everyone)
- Financial Information (about bills and costs)
- Medical Records
- Doctor’s Contact Information
- Current Prescription List
- Work History
- IEP (for children)
Remember to keep a copy of any records that you submit to the Social Security Administration. They need to see the original documents and they try to return them to you, but it’s always helpful to have a copy of what you’ve sent. It also helps to document when you spoke to the Administration, who you spoke to and what was said.
What happens after you apply?
The Social Security Administration reports that it takes about 3-5 months to receive a decision on your SSI application. However, it can vary depending on how complete your application was, how long it takes to request additional records, and more. The best way to speed up the process is to submit a fully developed claim with all the necessary evidence.
Don’t forget to report changes.
After you are approved, you will need to make sure that you report any required changes within 10 days.
You are required to report:
- Changes of address
- Changes of living arrangements
- Changes of income
- Changes of resources
- Changes of household size
- Change of citizenship status
- Change in living expenses
- Arrest warrants
- Improvement of your medical condition
- Employment changes
Always complete your Continuing Disability Reviews.
SSI is not a lifetime award. Every few years, the Social Security Administration will ask you to participate in a Continuing Disability Review.
These reviews are designed to make sure that you are still eligible for the benefits that you are receiving. The law requires a CDR to be completed at least once every three years. If your condition is not expected to improve, they can sometimes extend that to once every 5-7 years.
During the CDR, the office will review your income, resources, living arrangements and medical records to make sure that you are still eligible for the program.
Childhood disability awards are reviewed with adult criteria at 18.
A child who receives SSI will have their case reviewed a few months before they turn 18. During that review, the office will see if the condition meets the requirements for an adult award. If it does, the case will be re-evaluated as an adult case.
There are a few things you should know about SSI. Many people don’t know this, but we scoured the entire handbook for all the loopholes and things that you may have overlooked.
You can appoint a representative to assist you.
You can appoint a representative to assist with your SSI claim. Your representative does not have to be a lawyer, either! Whoever you appoint will be able to help you with the paperwork, talk to the Administration about your case, and more.
If you can’t afford one, then the office can provide you with a list of legal aid resources and other programs that may be able to help you. There are also some lawyers who will assist with your case on a contingency basis, which means they only get paid if you win your case.
You are entitled to a free interpreter.
If you do not speak English well, you can ask for a free interpreter. You can also choose to have a bilingual family member, friend, or volunteer help you as long as the person you choose meets the office’s requirements.
Please note that children are usually not allowed to serve as interpreters.
SSI offers work incentives.
The Social Security Administration has work incentives for SSI recipients. For example, the office does not count the first $65 of your earned income. They also don’t count any money that was spent on reasonable accommodations to make it possible for you to work with your disability. Those accommodations could be car modifications, assistive technology, counseling services or other tools.