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What is SSI?

SSI refers to monthly payments made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to persons with limited income and resources, and, unless they are over age 65 or blind, also have a “qualifying disability.”

Key Takeaways

  • Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which you may be eligible for regardless of your income and resources, to be eligible for SSI benefits you must be disabled and also have limited income and resources.
  • Once you qualify for SSI, in most states you will automatically qualify for Medicaid, and may also receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program (formerly referred to as food stamps) through your local Social Security office if everyone in your home is applying for or getting SSI.
  • You may be eligible to receive SSI monthly payments even if you are already receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or retirement benefits, as long as your work-related earnings (referred to by the SSA as earned income), combined with other sources of income from workers’ compensation payments, unemployment benefits, pensions, and other types of income which was not earned from work (referred to by the SSA as “unearned income”), do not exceed the income limits.

Eligibility 

The criteria for whether a disability qualifies for benefits are the same as those that apply for purposes of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) eligibility, namely a physical or mental condition due to which one is unable to engage in any substantially gainful activity (SGA), and has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than 12 months or result in death.  

In addition to having a qualifying disability, your resources must not be worth more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple, and your income may not exceed the annually adjusted maximum. The maximum income you may receive if you qualify for benefits is based on the federal benefit rate (FBR), and for 2022 is $841 per month for individuals and $1,261 for couples. Because the FBR is subject to annual increases due to cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), effective January 2023 those amounts will be increased to $914 per month for individuals and $1,371 for couples.

State-specific Supplemental Payments 

You should also know that most states provide for additional supplemental payments, although some of those states administer their own supplemental payment programs rather than having them administered through the SSA, in which case you will have to apply separately at the state level for the supplemental benefits. The amounts you receive may be reduced due to a number of factors such as if you have other sources of earned or unearned income, or if you live with a spouse whom themselves have a source of income.

Appeal Rights 

Note that you are entitled to appeal the SSA’s determinations regarding your eligibility for SSI benefits; the amount of your SSI benefit payments; whether you were overpaid; and by how much, as well as whether you will be required to return the overpayments, and are entitled to be represented by a lawyer to assist you through the appeals process.

Bottom Line 

While establishing your eligibility for SSI can be difficult, a wide range of benefits will become available to you once that happens. An experienced lawyer can develop a strategy to ensure that you and your family receive the maximum benefits you may be entitled to, and keep receiving those benefits for as long as possible.

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