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Introduction to Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a benefit paid to children and adults with disabilities and low income and assets. However, benefits may also be available to people older than 65 years of age who do not live with a disability. Supplemental Security Income is administered through the Social Security Administration, and those who are eligible for SSI may also qualify for other Social Security benefits. In fact, the same application form is used for SSI and Social Security. However, the two programs are still different in both design and benefits.

The benefits offered by the SSI program include money from the federal government and – in all but six states and one U.S. territory – additional money from the state government. States offer different amounts based on the cost of living. Further, which benefits an SSI applicant can receive depend on that individual’s income, assets, disability and living situation.

What are SSI Benefits?

SSI payments are updated each year in order to reflect the changes in the national cost of living. The most recent standards for 2023 designate a maximum Social Security benefit of $914 a month for qualified individuals, $1,371 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse and $458 for an essential person. This is a 8.7 percent increase in benefits from 2022, and the raise is effective starting January 1, 2023.

An individual beneficiary’s max benefit is determined by subtracting his or her countable income. For SSI, countable income is defined as any income you receive in the calendar month that can be applied to food and living costs. Countable income does not have to be cash to be calculated against the monthly maximum. Additionally, income that cannot be used for food or shelter is not considered countable. For example, if an eligible individual receives help with his or her medical bills, it will not be counted against his or her SSI payments. 

There are also income exclusions that will not be counted against a beneficiary’s SSI. The income that can be excluded is:

  • The first $65 of earned income each month.
  • Over the first $65, SSI does not count half of earned income. For example, an applicant with an earned income of $300 a month would only have $117 of countable income. First, the initial $65 would be subtracted and then the remained would be halved to $117.
  • Work expenses of the disabled or blind.
  • Income being set aside by a disabled or blind beneficiary in order to achieve financial independence.
  • The first $30 of irregular or infrequent income each quarter.
  • State or locally-funded assistance, based on need.
  • Food stamps or HUD housing programs.
  • The first $20 of unearned income. “Unearned income” being defined as any income from government benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Further, many states pay an additional benefit on top of the federal SSI amount. Each state has its own set of requirements and cost of living index to determine who receives extra SSI payments and the value. Of the states that provide extra value, there are two classes. Some states use federal money to provide their portion of Supplemental Security Income, and some use their own state-administered funds.

There is no requirement for states to offer supplemental payments on top of SSI. Currently, six states and one territory choose not to offer any additional benefits. These are:

  • Arizona.
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi.
  • North Dakota.
  • West Virginia.
  • Northern Mariana Islands.

There are 12 states that offer extra SSI payment amounts, administered by the Social Security Administration. These 12 states are:

  • California.
  • Delaware.
  • District of Columbia.
  • Hawaii.
  • Iowa.
  • Michigan.
  • Montana.
  • Nevada.
  • New Jersey.
  • Pennsylvania.
  • Rhode Island.
  • Vermont.

Of the states listed above, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are dual administration states. This means that the Social Security office administers some categories of supplement payments while the state administers other categories.

Any state that has not been listed provides state-administered supplemental SSI benefits.
These remaining states administer payments on state-specific terms, and the federal Social Security office does not have control of the state amounts or requirements. 

About SSI Benefits Requirements

SSI eligibility has a straightforward set of initial eligibility requirements. Applicants must be blind, disabled as legally defined by the American Disability Act and older than the age of 65. Candidates must have an income that satisfies the SSI income guidelines and must be a United States citizen or resident alien. Further, applicants must:

  • Live within one of the U.S. states or territories.
  • Apply to all other cash benefit to which he or she may be eligible.
  • Give the SSA permission to contact financial institutions to verify need.
  • Not be absent from the country for 30 consecutive calendar days.
  • Not be confined to a prison, hospital or other government-funded institution.

However, there is an exception to one of these requirements. SSI for children exists for eligible applicants younger than 18 years of age, or younger than 22 years of age and regularly attending school. Under SSI rules, children cannot be married or be the head of a household. Furthermore, they must have a disability that is chronic or life-threatening to qualify.

When determining SSI benefits for children, the SSA counts a portion of the parent’s income as if it were available to the child. The income of any stepparents may also be counted if the child resides with the parent and a stepparent.

In order to meet the SSI income limits, an individual applying to SSI may not have more than $2,000 in total assets and a couple may not have more than $3,000 in total assets. Further, the total amount of the applicant’s countable income, as mentioned above, may not exceed the total maximum value of $934 or $1,391 per month.

How to Apply for SSI

Applicants can apply for SSI online, by phone, or in person. However, candidates who choose to visit a local SSA office should anticipate a waiting time. Additionally, which beneficiaries are eligible to apply online is restricted and the deaf or hard of hearing may feel more comfortable applying in person than over the phone. There is no charge to apply, and all applicants have the right to a representative if they feel they need help in the application process.

Please note, you cannot currently apply for SSI for a child online.

To apply by phone or in person, call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment. Candidates who are deaf or hard of hearing may call 1-800-772-1213 to use telecommunication relay services. Alternatively, a candidate may ask someone else to call the Social Security Administration on his or her behalf.

To apply online, use the Social Security Disability Benefits page to access the online web portal. In order to be eligible to apply online, the applicant must:

  • Be between 18 and 65 years of age.
  • Never have been married.
  • Not be blind.
  • Be a U.S. Citizen residing in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Not have applied for or received SSDI benefits in the past.
  • Be applying to SSDI as well.

If you are not eligible to apply online, you can schedule an interview to visit an SSA office. Be sure to bring proof of your identity, disability, income and marital status. These documents can include your marriage license, Social Security card, bank account number, hospital records and the contact information of your doctors.

Information About SSI, SSDI and Social Security

A candidate can apply for SSDI and SSI with the same form, and some candidates might even have dual eligibility. However, unlike SSI, SSDI and Social Security retirement benefits are offered only to those who have worked long enough and contributed enough taxes into the system to be “insured.” There is no work requirement for SSI. Additionally, SSI beneficiaries are eligible for Medicaid benefits in most states. They are also likely to be eligible for food or housing assistance, such as Section 8 or SNAP.

A candidate may claim Social Security retirement, SSI and SSDI benefits if he or she is eligible for all programs, but the added value of the other benefits will be counted towards the individual’s Social Security income. Thus, claiming other Social Security benefits will lower the value of SSI payments but may still increase the total benefit value the applicant receives each month.