What is SSI benefits and who is Eligible?

What is SSI benefits and who is eligible? What are the income limits to qualify for SSI? After you apply, how long does it take to get benefits? Can you work with receiving benefits? In this post, we will answer these questions and more.

In addition, we will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully apply for Supplemental Security Income.

"What is SSI benefits and who is Eligible"

This post will cover:

  • What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
  • Difference Between SSI and SSDI
  • What can SSI Benefits do for you?
  • How Much Will I Receive in SSI Benefits?
  • Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits?
  • Citizenship Requirements
  • How to Apply for SSI Benefits
  • SSI Application Approval Rate
  • SSI Benefits FAQs

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income or SSI, is a federal benefit program administered by the Social Security Administration that provides monthly payments to people who have limited income and few resources, and who are:

  • Disabled (at any age), or
  • Age 65 or older

SSI is a needs-based program, which means the amount you receive in benefits depends on the income that is available to you.

However, unlike Social Security retirement benefits, SSI benefits are paid out of general U.S. Treasury funds, not from Social Security taxes.

As a result, you need not have worked a certain amount, or paid FICA taxes, to be eligible.

Difference Between SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) differs from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in that SSI payments are made from the general funds of the United States Treasury whereas SSDI benefits are paid from the Social Security Trust Fund.

Accordingly, to qualify for SSI benefits, you must have little or no income and meet any of the following two criteria:

  • Disabled (at any age), or
  • Age 65 or older

To qualify for SSDI, you must have paid enough in Social Security taxes and earned enough credits to be covered by the program.

In general, that usually means having worked 5 years full-time out of the last 10 years.

However, SSI does not depend on your work history and is needs-based, so you must have limited income and financial resources, including assets.

You will need to produce pay stubs, bank statements, deeds, and other proof of property ownership as part of your application.

In addition, both SSI and SSDI have the same strict medical criteria for qualification.

For a detailed review of differences between SSI and SSDI, see our SSI vs. SSDI post.

How May People Recieve SSI benefits?

There are currently about 8 million people receiving SSI benefits.

As shown by the table below, there are 5.4 million people receiving SSI along and another 2.7 million receiving both SSI and Social Security retirement benefits.

Number of people receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both, July 2020

Type of beneficiary Total Social Security only SSI only Both Social Security and SSI
All beneficiaries 69,613,000 61,585,000 5,355,000 2,674,000
Aged 65 or older 50,320,000 48,025,000 1,003,000 1,292,000
Disabled, under age 65 a 13,312,000 0 4,352,000 1,381,000

The chart below shows the breakdown of who receives SSI benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

"How many people are on SSI benefits?"

How Is SSI Funded?

As an entitlement program, SSI benefit is available to anyone who meets its eligibility requirements.

However, unlike Social Security (which is financed by dedicated payroll taxes), SSI is funded from general revenues.

At a cost of just over $50 billion in the fiscal year 2012, SSI constitutes a small portion of the federal budget — 1.4 percent of total spending that year.

What can SSI Benefits do for you?

If you qualify for SSI benefits, applying and getting approved has many advantages:

First, the monthly SSI benefit payments can help you pay for your basic needs, like food, housing, clothing, and more.

Second, those who are on SSI benefits automatically qualify for Medicaid. You may also be eligible for other state health insurance programs.

How Much Will I Recieve in SSI Benefits?

The basic monthly SSI payment for 2020 is the same nationwide. It is:
—$783 for one person.
—$1,175 for a couple.

However, not everyone gets the same amount. You may get more if you live in a state that adds money to the federal SSI payment.

Also, you may receive less if you or your family has other income.

In addition, where and with whom you live also makes a difference in the amount of your
SSI payment.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia offer supplemental SSI payments.

States that provide additional payments may have their own rules regarding income and eligibility.

If you currently work or have earned income while on SSI, see our post on SSI Benefits Calculator.

Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits?

"Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits"

As mentioned above, three groups of people can get SSI benefits:

  • People older than 18 but younger than 65, with disabilities and limited income and resources.
  • People who are 65 years old or older, with limited income and resources.
  • Qualifying children and youth under 18 with disabilities.

If you’re between 18 – 65, to qualify for SSI benefits, you need to:

  • Meet certain citizenship and residency requirements;
  • Meet income and resource limits; and
  • Have a disability that prevents you from working.

As mentioned above, you have to meet both non-medical and medical guidelines in order to be approved for SSI benefits. Here’s what you need to know:

Medical Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for SSI benefits, you must show that:

  1. You have a disability
  2. Your disability prevents you from working.

The Social Security Administration has very specific rules about what is and is not a disability.

Social Security uses the same definition of disability for all its programs (SSI & SSDI).

Medical Definition of Disability

You must be able to show medical reports that confirm that you have a severe physical or mental disability.

It is important that you keep medical records and other paperwork organized and up to date to prevent any confusion or questions about the extent of your disability.

If no reports are available, Social Security will send you to a doctor to confirm your condition.

Your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least a year or be expected to result in death.

If you have a visual impairment, see the rules the SSA uses to decide if you are blind.

Unable to Work

In addition, as part of the application approval process, the Social Security Administration will make a judgment as to whether or not your disabling condition prevents you from achieving any type of “substantial gainful activity.”

The term Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is used to describe a level of work activity or earnings.

In 2020, if you are earning more than $1,260 per month (or $2,110 if you’re blind), Social Security says your earnings are Substantial Gainful Activity.

Does your disability prevent you from working?

It is important to note when it comes to determining whether you can perform a substantial gainful activity, the SSA uses the following set of questions it calls the Functional Assessment:

The Functional Assessment for Disability Benefits

If you are working above the SGA level, you are considered able to work, and therefore not disabled and not eligible for SSI benefits.

As mentioned above, in 2020, the SGA level is earning more than $1,260 per month (or $2,110 if you’re blind). Otherwise…

If your condition is on the Listing of Impairments (Blue Book), and the condition is severe enough, you are automatically considered disabled.

For the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments, click here. If not…

Social Security figures out if you could do your old job, even if you’re not working now. If so, you are not disabled. If not…

Finally, Social Security figures out if you could do any other kind of work, considering your medical condition, age, and background. If so, you are not disabled. If not…

You are disabled.

Resources Eligibility Criteria

To be approved for SSI benefits, you must also meet the resources requirement. Resources are cash and other property that you own and could convert to cash.

You must have less than $2,000 in countable resources ($3,000 for a couple) to qualify for SSI benefits. This is the SSI resources limit.

Resources include:

  • cash
  • bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds
  • land
  • life insurance
  • personal property
  • vehicles
  • anything else you own which could be changed to cash and used for food or shelter
  • deemed resources.

Excluded resources are resources that don’t count towards SSI’s resource limit. The most important excluded resources are:

  • The home you live in
  • One vehicle

Countable resources are all resources that aren’t excluded.

However, if your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where over time you can save up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI.

For more on ABLE accounts, click here.

Citizenship Requirements

To qualify for SSI benefits, you must be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien.

Qualified aliens include people who are:

  • Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the U.S.
  • Refugees admitted to the U.S. under Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • People granted asylum under section 208 of the INA

Qualified aliens must also meet certain other conditions to be eligible for SSI benefits.

If you are unsure of your immigration status or how it affects SSI, you should contact the Social Security Administration or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

How to Apply for SSI Benefits

"How to apply for SSI Benefits"

There are two ways to apply for SSI Benefits:

Option 1 – Apply Online

To apply for SSI, you can begin the process and complete a large part of your application by visiting our website at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/.

You may be eligible to complete your SSI application online if you:

  • Are between the ages of 18 and 65.
  • Have never been married.
  • Aren’t blind.
  • Are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the 50 states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past.
  • Are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time as your SSI claim

Otherwise, you can use option 2 below to apply with your local Social Security office.

Option 2 – Apply at your Local SSA Office

You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to set up an
in-person or telephone appointment with a representative from your local Social
Security office.

When to Apply for SSI Benefits

You should apply for SSI benefits as soon as possible so that you do not lose benefits.

Remember, if approved, you will only receive benefits effective from the date of your application.

You will not receive benefits for time periods earlier than the effective date of your application.

Also, if you call the Social Security Administration to make an appointment to apply for SSI benefits and you file an application within 60 days of the call, the SSA may use the date of your call as your application filing date.

SSI Application Process

Here’s how the SSI application process works.

Step 1 – Submit an SSI application to your local Social Security office

The first step to applying for SSI benefits is to submit an application to your local Social Security office.

You will have to complete a form online, which will then be followed by an interview that must be done in person or on the phone.

Step 2 – The Social Security Office will check non-medical eligibility

Your local Social Security office will review your application for the non-medical eligibility portion of the process.

They may ask questions about your family member’s age, employment, marital status, citizenship, income, resources, and housing.

Step 3 – Your case gets sent to a Disability Determination Services office

Next, your medical records will be reviewed to see if you meet the guidelines.

Step 3. The Disability Determination office makes a decision about your case.

If they make a determination that you are disabled, they will inform the Social Security office. You will then receive a letter from the Social Security office with a decision.

SSI Application Approval Rate

About 70% of all initial applications for disability benefits are rejected by the SSA. If your initial application is denied by the SSA, it is not the end of the road.

You can file an appeal, beginning with a Request for Reconsideration.

You may also consider hiring an experienced Disability Attorney to take you through the appeal process.

SSI Benefits FAQs

Here are the most frequently asked questions about the SSI Benefits application process.

How do I know if I am eligible for SSI?

You have to meet the following three criteria:

  1. You have to meet Social Security’s definition of Disability as explained above.
  2. Your assets cannot be more than $2,000 ($3,000 for couples)
  3. Your monthly income must be below $783 or ($1175 for couples).

The video below from the Idaho Department of Labor does an excellent job of explaining what you need to know to successfully apply for SSI.

Do I get Medicaid with SSI Benefits?

If you have Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability, you may get Medicaid coverage automatically or you may have to apply.

Should You Hire an SSI Attorney?

Disclaimer: We do not give legal advice on this website.

Applying for SSI benefits can be challenging. Additionally, there is a high chance your claim will be denied since only 30% of initial applications are approved.

You can go through the entire initial application process by yourself.

However, if you feel overwhelmed by the process and requirements of applying for SSI benefits, here’s what you can do.

You may hire a qualified Social Security disability attorney who can evaluate your claim, help you start the application process, and defend your case in court in the chance that it is denied.

How Much Will I get in SSI Benefits?

The basic monthly SSI payment for 2020 is the same nationwide. It is:
—$783 for one person.
—$1,175 for a couple.

However, not everyone gets the same amount. You may get more if you live in a state that adds money to the federal SSI payment.

Also, you may receive less if you or your family has other income.

Will I get Additional SSI Benefits from my State?

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia offer supplemental SSI payments.

The states that don’t provide additional SSI state benefits are Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia.)

However, states that provide additional payments may have their own rules regarding income and eligibility.

Note that SSI is not available to residents of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

However, a recent court ruling by The U.S. Court of Appeals allows anyone from Puerto Rico to apply for Supplemental Security Income.

It is estimated that about 700,000 people in Puerto Rico qualify for SSI.

Residents of the Northern Mariana Islands can receive SSI, but the territory does not supplement federal payments.

Can you get SSI and Social Security retirement at the same time?

Yes, you may collect Social Security retirements benefits and SSI benefits at the same time if you meet the strict financial criteria.

What is SSI benefits Summary

We hope this post on “What is SSI benefits” was helpful.

If you have further questions about Social Security, SSI, or SSDI, please let us know in the comments section below.

Be sure to check out our other articles on Social Security including How to apply for SSI, SSI payments Schedule, Differences between SSI and SSDI, Social Security Questions and Answers, and SSI Wage reporting instructions