Supplemental Security Income Explained

SSI Benefits Aren’t As Complex As You’ve Been Made To Believe

( – Supplemental Security Income is one of several programs administered by Social Security. It is not retirement or disability insurance, but rather is intended to help people in certain groups with cash to support basic needs.

What is Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental security income provides cash to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. It is extra support for aged, blind, and disabled people with little or no income.

Applying for SSI is also applying for Social Security, but there are some key differences. First of all, SSI is not funded by Social Security taxes, but rather out of general funds.

Who is Eligible for SSI?

Unlike Social Security, recipients do not have to have a work history or a history of paying Social Security taxes. SSI is, thus, available for younger disabled people who may never have been able to work.

To be eligible people must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident, or a “qualified alien,” typically a permanent resident.
  • Reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Be disabled, blind, or at least 65 years old. The standard for disability for adults is a physical or mental condition, or combination of conditions, that prevents them from working and is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. Blind is vision no better than 20/200 or limited visual field.
  • Have less than $861 a month in unearned income, $1,281 for couples, and earned income of up to $1,767 for individuals and $2,607 for a couple. However, residents of some states may be able to get SSI with higher income. Some things are not considered income. For example, if a family member is paying part of their rent, that is counted as income. However, if they are paying their internet bill it is not because that is not a basic need. Home energy assistance also does not count. Also, any money they spend on things that help them work does not count.
  • Have $2,000 or less in “resources” ($3,000 for a couple). This is things they own other than their home, one car, personal effects, and property used to help them support themselves, such as trade tools. They may be required to sell valuables before you can get SSI.

Children can get SSI if their family has low income and they have a disability that substantially impairs function.

How is SSI Paid?

SSI is paid by direct deposit into a bank account. This is the only way to receive SSI, so people will need to have a checking account with a bank or credit union. Credit unions often allow people to open accounts with much less money if they meet their other requirements.

How to Apply for SSI?

People can typically apply online at if they are between 18 and 65, have never been married, have never applied for SSI before and are also applying for SSDI.

Otherwise, applicants can use an online tool to express interest. There may also be an organization or charity in their area that will help them complete the application, especially if they have a disability that makes doing so difficult. Once they have completed the online process, they will be contacted for an appointment to finish the application.

Also, applicants can call 1-800-772-1213 to set up an appointment (1-800-325-0778 if they are deaf/hard of hearing and need a TTY number).

Many people are denied, but in most states you have the right to appeal.

SSI is intended to ensure that recipients can afford basic living costs, and the amounts are fairly small, but they can make a huge difference for many people.

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