SSI (Supplemental Social Security Income) is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that assists elderly, disabled, or blind Americans with limited income and resources. Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on work credits that a person has accrued from working over their lifetime, SSI provides much-needed assistance to people who are disabled and with limited income, regardless of work history. Florida, unlike many other states, offers very few other kinds of disability assistance programs apart from SSI and SSDI.
History of SSI
Disability programs, other than SSDI, used to be run by each individual state, resulting in coverage that varied wildly. To create nationally standardized eligibility requirements, the United States Congress created in SSI in 1974. Of course, it is still up to state governments to determine if someone is eligible for SSI. In Florida, this task falls upon the Division of Disability Determinations (DDD), which operates under the Department of Health. As of 2019, the SSA reports that approximately 5.4 million people receive SSI nationally, with about 600,000 of them residing in the Sunshine State.
Disability-Based SSI Requirements
To qualify for SSI in Florida, applicants must meet several basic requirements before qualifying for SSI. Applicants must either be 65 or older, disabled, or blind (in order to be classified as blind by the SSA, central visual acuity must be 20/200 or less with the use of correcting lenses in the better eye; applicants can also be classified as blind if the visual field limitation in the better eye does not exceed 20 degrees).
For someone to be considered disabled, their impairment must not only prevent them from doing the type of work they did in the past, but it must also stop them from taking on a different form of substantial gainful activity based on age, education, and experience. In addition, the disabling condition must be expected to last for 12 months or longer, or result in death.
SSI is only available to those who legally reside in the United States. Exceptions may be made for children of armed service members stationed overseas, or to students studying abroad, on a case-by-case basis.
Need-Based SSI Requirements
The Florida SSI program is not only based on age and disability; it also takes financial need into consideration. Here are the income requirements that applicants must meet before they can qualify.
1) Applicants must have a limited income after factoring in all income received from work, Social Security, the VA, unemployment and other benefits and assistance from others.
2) The value of personal resources must be less than $2,000 total for singles, and $3,000 total for couples. Assets that the SSA considers resources include real estate, stocks, bonds, cash, and bank accounts. A primary residence is not counted as a resource, neither is one vehicle (unless the value is over $4,500). Wedding rings and funds in an ABLE savings account, a special bank account for individuals with disabilities, are also not considered resources.
3) An applicant’s income, based upon the 2020 Federal Benefit Rate, must not exceed $783 per month for an individual and $1,175 per month for a couple.
4) Before applying for SSI, applicants must first try to claim other benefits that they may be eligible, such as SSDI, Workers' Compensation, or VA benefits.
How Much Does SSI Pay in Florida?
Because SSI payments are determined based not only on disability but on financial need, the amount you may be eligible for will be based on income, which must be below a certain threshold. In addition to actual earned wages, income also refers to other payments an applicant may be receiving, such as Social Security, unemployment, VA benefits, alimony, and pensions. “In-kind” income an applicant receives, which are payments made on an applicant’s behalf for necessities such as food and rent, also count as income (SNAP benefits are the one exception).
So, how much does SSI pay in Florida? As of 2019, the maximum amount of SSI available for a single person is $771 per month; for couples, this amount increases to $1,157. If an applicant lives with a spouse who does not qualify for SSI, their income will be counted toward the applicant’s income, although the couples’ cutoff rate will be used.
When the SSA makes an SSI calculation, the first $20 of all income from any source and the first $65 of wages is excluded; after that first $65, half of all wages earned are excluded from the applicant’s income. If the resulting amount, called the “countable income,” is above the SSI limit, the applicant is ineligible.
The SSI Application Process in Florida
Florida has 46 different SSA field offices where you can apply for benefits. You also have the option of submitting an application online or by phone. Once your application is received by the Florida office of the SSA, it is forwarded to the DDD. There, a claims examiner and medical consultant will review the application and make a decision regarding whether or not you will receive disability benefits (mental disorders will also be reviewed by a psychiatrist/psychologist).
Florida SSI Approval Rates and Appeals
SSI disability benefits in Florida aren’t always easy to come by; at the initial application stage, less than 35% of individuals are approved. The most common reasons for a denial are the following:
- Lack of medical evidence or documentation
- The disability is temporary in nature
- Failure to follow prescribed treatment or therapy regimens
- History of criminal convictions, imprisonment, and illegal activity
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Earning above the limits of SGA
Applicants who are denied SSI benefits can file an appeal by calling the SSA’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contacting their local Social Security office. There are four levels of appeal: reconsideration, hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ), review by the Appeals Council, and a Federal Court review.
SSI Supplemental Payments in Florida
SSI monthly benefits typically come from the federal government at a base rate of up to $735/month. Individual states may choose to add state-specific benefits to that base SSI amount. There is a Florida SSI state supplement available to persons living in community care programs (family care homes), assisted living homes, or in Medicaid homes (i.e. accommodation where Medicaid pays for more than 50% of the cost).
SSI in Florida and Medicaid
Those who qualify for SSI disability benefits in Florida are also automatically eligible to receive Medicaid coverage. In addition, such recipients may also be eligible for food assistance programs to help with monthly costs.
Florida SSI Resources
There are several important resources that SSI applicants in Florida should be aware of:
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
This is a department that has been set aside to specifically assist those who are disabled but desire to return to work, to be able to do so. The department offers job-specific training, resources for obtaining a job that suits your abilities, and assistance to help you maintain employment. Their contact information is as follows:
Florida Department of Education
Tallahassee, Fl 323201
1 (800) 451-4327
The Florida Office of Disability and Adjudication Review (ODAR) is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and it serves as the location where appeals are processed and scheduled for hearing.
Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth St. SW.
Atlanta, GA 30303
1 (404) 562-1182
Have Questions or Need Help Applying for SSI in Florida?
Have questions about how to qualify for SSI in Florida, or need help applying? If you feel you’re eligible to receive Florida SSI benefits, it helps to have an experienced disability advocate at your side. The team at Disability Experts of Florida can assist you in filling out all the necessary paperwork, obtaining your medical records, cutting through government red tape, and even represent you should you need to have a hearing before an ALJ. Contact us today to receive the support, and the benefits, that you deserve.