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Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

What is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program?

The Supplemental Security Income program is funded by the general revenues of the Federal Treasury and is intended to provide a minimum level of income to persons who are aged, disabled, or blind and demonstrate economic need. The SSI program is meant to supplement any income an individual might already have to ensure a certain level of income to meet basic living expenses. The dollar amount received in SSI on a monthly basis varies from person to person and is computed each month, taking into account an individual's current financial situation.

What are the eligibility requirements that a person must meet to qualify for SSI benefits?

For an individual to be eligible for SSI they must be disabled, or blind, or aged and have little or no income and resources. A person must fit into one of the following categories: Disabled, Blind (20/200 or less in your better eye with glasses or a filed of vision less than 20 degrees), or Aged (refers to be 65 years of age or older).

Who is considered by the SSA to be disabled?

The Social Security Administration defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (work) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months or result in death.

What is meant by the term Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

SGA is defined as the performance of significant mental or physical duties for profit and is usually determined to be gross monthly earnings in excess of $700 for individuals with a disability other than blindness, or $1110 if you are blind. Individuals must not be working, or if working, making earnings less than the SGA at the time of application.

What is the process used for determining if an individual meets the disability requirements to qualify for SSI benefits?

The state Disability Determination Service (DDS) makes the disability decision for the SSA. Once an application for the SSI program is completed at the SSA office, it is sent to DDS. In making the disability determination, DDS workers will ask the individual's doctors and other treatment sources for a medical history of their condition: What is wrong? When did it begin?; What do medical tests indicate?; and, What treatment has been given?

A team of trained people in the DDS office, including a doctor and a disability examiner, review the completed forms as well as the medical records and work history to decide if individuals are disabled. If they are unable to make a decision based on this information, the DDS will pay for a specific medical examination. In deciding if individuals are disabled, the DDS will determine if the condition is as severe as that described in the SSA's listing of specific impairments. If it is not, the DDS looks at individuals' physical and mental capabilities in combination with other factors, such as age, education and work experience.

Again, in order to meet the SGA requirement of the disability test, the individual cannot be working at the time of application or, if working, not be earning more than the SGA level of $700 a month for individuals with a disability other than blindness, or $1110 if they are blind.

Are SSA work incentives available that may help an individual to meet the disability/SGA eligibility requirements?

Yes, in some instances an individual may be working and earning over $700 a month and still meet the disability test by taking advantage of two work incentives known as the Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE) and Subsidy. The dollar amount of IRWEs and subsidies are subtracted from a person's gross monthly earnings before the SGA determination is made. If the dollar amount of the IRWE or subsidy is significant enough to reduce their gross monthly earnings below $700, they will be determined to meet the SGA requirement of the disability test.

Is there an Income Test?

Yes. To be eligible for SSI a person must meet an income as well as resource test. SSI resource limits are set by statue and a person's countable or real personal property, including cash, must not exceed the specified amount to qualify. The current resource limit is $ 2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Income includes earned income (which refers to monthly gross earnings), and unearned income such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or any other type of benefit or monetary support a person receives. A standardized formula, which takes into account earned and unearned income is used by SSA to compute the dollar amount of SSI cash benefit that a person qualifies for. This formula is applied during the initial eligibility determination and an individual must qualify for some dollar amount of SSI to meet the income test.

What if an individual is considered ineligible for SSI due to having income and/or resources over the allowable levels?

A person's income and/or resources can be set aside under a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS), to be used to achieve an individualized vocational goal. The income and/or resources that are set aside under the PASS are not counted when the income and resource test is administered, enabling them to meet this part of the eligibility requirement. In addition, the dollar amount of IWREs may also be subtracted from gross earnings during the income test, enabling you to qualify when you otherwise would have too much income to be eligible.

How are SSI cash benefits affected by work and earnings?

Once eligible, the amount of SSI an individual receives on a monthly basis depends solely on their income and resources. In other words, they will not lose their SSI cash benefit when earnings exceed $500 SGA level. While their SSI check will decrease as earnings increase, an SSI recipient will continue to get a cash benefit until their earnings increase to the point at which their SSI check is reduced to zero. This is referred to as the break-even point.

In addition to earnings, are their other factors that affect the dollar amount of an individual's SSI check on a monthly basis?

Yes. SSI is an economic need based program intended to supplement any income or resources an individual already has to ensure that they have a minimum level of income each month. Therefore, the dollar amount of a SSI benefit received in a given month depends on the dollar amount of other income and resources that an individual has for that particular month. In January of each year Congress establishes the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) which is the maximum dollar amount that an individual or couple can receive in SSI cash benefits on a monthly basis. How much of the FBR a person receives depends on all of the following factors:

  • resources -- a person with resources over the allowable limits at the beginning of a month is ineligible for SSI benefits that month;
  • living arrangements and in-kind support -- a person whose food and shelter expenses are paid for by someone else is considered to be receiving in-kind support. This is considered by SSA to be one type of unearned income and results in the person's SSI check being reduced by one-third of the amount of FBR.
  • unearned income -- the more unearned income, such as SSDI and Veterans benefits, a person receives, the greater the reduction in the SSI check.
  • earned income -- the more earnings a person has, the greater the reduction in the SSI check
  • work incentives - utilizing available work incentives such as PASS and IRWE may assist an individual in either maintaining or increasing the dollar amount of their monthly cash benefit.

For Further Information Contact:
The Social Security Administration