Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal assistance program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA.) SSI is a needs-based program available to assist people with few resources and low income who are 65 years of age or older, or who have a disabling medical condition that meets SSA’s definition of disability or blindness.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for People with Disabilities
Your eligibility for SSI is determined by what resources and income you have, where and how you live, and if you have a qualifying medical condition that meets SSA’s definition of a disability.
Medical Disability Requirement
Your condition must be listed on SSA’s list of impairments, or be severe enough to interfere with your ability to work and earn substantial gainful activity ($1,070 a month in 2014) at any job for a year. SSA requires a complete medical history and review of all documentation before making a final decision about whether or not you qualify for SSI based on a disability.
Personal resources cannot be worth more than $2,000 for individuals; $3,000 if married. Resources are things you own that are used to support you.
- Bank accounts; stocks and bonds
- Personal property
- Life insurance
- Items that can be sold for cash to pay for food and shelter
- Deemed resources: portion of resources from the person you live with
Not everything you own counts as a resource:
- Your home
- Household items
- Wedding and engagement rings
- Burial spaces and funds that are $1,500 or less
- Life insurance policies valued at $1,500 or less
- One vehicle used for transportation
- Property or resources needed for self-support
- Assistance support that is not counted as income
- Cash for medical or social services that is not counted as income
- Other assistance sources
How much countable income you have determines the amount of your SSI monthly cash benefit. SSA determines that amount by subtracting income not counted from your total income.
- Earned income: wages earned from work or self-employment
- Unearned income: Social Security and unemployment benefits, pensions, state disability benefits, interest from savings accounts, cash from friends or relatives
- In-kind income: free food or shelter
- Deemed income: part of income from the person you live with who is not eligible for SSI
Income not counted:
- the first $20 of most income received in a month
- the first $65 of earnings in a month (wages from a job)
- one-half of earnings over $65 in a month
- food stamps
- income tax refunds
- state assistance programs
- interest or dividends earned from bank accounts or stocks (countable resources)
- loans to repay
- money received from someone to pay expenses other than food or shelter
- impairment-related work expenses
- disaster assistance
How and where you live is also factored into your countable income. For example, if you rent or own a home and pay for your own food, you may receive more in an SSI cash benefit than if you live in someone else’s home and you don’t pay for food and shelter.
Calculating Your SSI Benefit
Your SSI benefit is calculated by subtracting your countable income from the SSI federal benefit rate. The SSI federal benefit rate in 2014 is $721 for an individual and $1,082 for an eligible couple.
The Basic Formula:
Total Income – Income not counted = Countable income
SSI federal benefit rate – Countable income = SSI federal benefit
SSI Payment Amounts Can Change Month to Month
Your resources and income are key factors in determining eligibility for SSI. Your monthly benefit amount is also affected by changes to the value of your resources and to the amount of income you may earn from working.
- If your countable resources go over the allowable amount in the beginning of the month, ($2,000/individual; $3,000/married couple) you will not receive an SSI payment that month.
- If your countable income goes over the allowable amount earned from wages ($1,433/individual; $2,107/married couple) you will not receive an SSI payment that month.
- If there is a change to your living arrangement.
Some states also add supplements to the basic SSI payment. You may also be eligible for other social services such as Medicaid and food stamps.
Periodic Review Determines Continued Eligibility for SSI
Your SSI disability benefit is based on need, which is why your income and resources will be strictly reviewed by SSA to make sure that your income and resources stay within the limitations of eligibility requirements.
You may also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Eligibility is based upon whether you have paid into Social Security and if you have a recent enough work history.
Your SSDI cash benefit is based on your earnings record and is not affected by changes to your countable income or resources, except if you are also receiving public disability insurance benefits and/or Worker’s Compensation. Once you receive SSDI benefits you will also be eligible for Medicare in two years.
Get Help Applying for SSI or SSDI
The eligibility rules for SSI are very complex. If you need help applying for Supplemental Insurance Income, or if you think you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, a Freedom Disability Advocate can evaluate your case and provide the help you need. Contact us at (800) 298-6885.