How Much do You Really Know About the SSI Program?

Published on: May 5, 2017

SSI_Program_Qualifying.jpgThe Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a program run by the Social Security Administration that offers benefits to people with limited financial resources, people living with disabilities, people unable to work due to medical conditions, and disabled or blind children of people with limited resources.

The SSI program can be complicated to understand; therefore, this article seeks to give you more information as to how the program works, how eligibility is determined, and how payments are made.

Eligibility for the Program

SSI provides payments to recipients for them to purchase basic goods such as food, shelter and clothing. In order to qualify for the SSI program, you must meet specific criteria that have been set by the SSA.

Income and Resource Requirements

The first of these criteria is to meet specific income and resources requirements. Income is any money that you earn (such as wages, disability benefits and pension), while resources are defined as things that you own that bring you money (such as rental properties, stocks and bonds, and bank accounts).

There are 4 different types of income that the SSA considers. These are:

  • Earned income (any money you have earned such as wages and money from self-employment)
  • Unearned income (any income that you have not earned such as social security benefits and unemployment benefits)
  • In-kind income (any shelter or food you may receive at a subsidized price or for free)
  • Deemed income (this is income from a spouse or, in the case of a child under the age of 18,  parents who you live with)

There are some common sources of income that the SSA does not include while determining your eligibility for SSI. These include income tax refunds, need-based assistance from a state or local government, grants and scholarships for educational expenses, and any pending loans that you have to repay.

Some common assets that you may own are also not factored as resources when determining your SSI eligibility. These include the home you live in and one vehicle.

Disability and Age Requirements

In addition to the income requirements specified above, applicants must also either be 65 or older (what the SSA describes as “aged”), blind (with a visual acuity of 20/200 with correcting lenses in your better eye, or with a visual field limitation), or disabled. Disability, as described by the SSA for an adult, is any medical condition that results in one’s inability to do work, is expected to lead to death, or is expected to last for a period of at least one year. Disability in children is defined similarly, with the limitation in their ability to function normally considered.

How your SSI Monthly Payments are calculated

Another important thing to know about the SSI program is the payment amounts that they give to eligible recipients of the program. Monthly payment amounts average about $773 per month for individuals and around $100 per month for couples.

In order to arrive at your monthly benefit amount, the SSA first sums up all your income (your total income), and then subtracts the amount of income that it does not normally consider. From this, they arrive at your countable income, which is the amount of income that they have determined you earn and will use to calculate your monthly benefit amount. They then subtract your countable income from the current federal SSI benefit rate.

For example, if your countable income is $400, they subtract this from the current SSI rate ($773- $400) and arrive at your monthly benefit of $377. If your countable income exceeds the current federal rate for SSI benefits, you cannot be eligible for the SSI program.

Additional Factors Considered in SSI Calculations

The example above is general. The calculations can vary and become slightly more complex depending on the types of income that you receive, state and local assistance programs, any disabled children you may be caring for and their condition, among other factors.

How to Apply for SSI

The application process for SSI benefits varies slightly depending on your specific situation. There are 3 main application categories: adults with disabilities, children with disabilities and persons of age 65 and older.

Adults with disabilities aged between 18-65 years can apply for SSI benefits online, as long as they have never been married, are not blind, are U.S. citizens residing in one of the 50 states and are applying for SSI for the first time.

Applying for children to receive SSI has to be done in person or over the phone by completing an SSI application as well as a Child Disability Report that details the disabling condition of the child (this portion can be completed online).

Persons aged 65 or older need to call the SSA at the specified toll number, or they can schedule an appointment at their local Social Security office.


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