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Supplemental Security Income

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides cash to help disabled people meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.

The program that is of particular concern to a disabled individual with resources or income is Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. SSI is a federal income supplement program that is funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes, and is designed to help aged, blind, or disabled individuals with little or no income. This program provides cash to help disabled people meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

In order to qualify for this program, an individual must have limited income and limited resources; be a U.S. citizen or national; be a resident of one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or northern Mariana Islands; not have been absent from the country for a full calendar month or more than 30 consecutive days overlapping any portion of the preceding 30-day period; apply for any other cash benefits or payments for which he or she may be eligible such as pensions and Social Security; provide permission to the Social Security Administration to contact any financial institution and request financial records; file all applications and meet certain other requirements.

"Disability" Defined

For a Child: Disability for purposes of receiving SSI means the child has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked and severe functional limitations; and can be expected to result in death; or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

For an Adult: Disability means that the individual has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in an inability to do any substantial gainful activity; can be expected to result in death; or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Income

While not all income is included for purposes of determining SSI eligibility, income does include money earned from work, money received from other sources such as Social Security, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs, friends or relatives and free food or shelter. Countable income will reduce an individual's SSI benefit amount.

As an SSI beneficiary’s income increases, the SSI benefit will decrease. If countable income exceeds the limit allowed by law, no SSI benefits can be received. Income that is counted includes earned income, unnamed income, in kind income and deemed income. Earned income includes earnings from wages or self-employment and certain royalties and shelter workshop payments.  Unearned income is any income not earned, such as:

  • Social Security benefits

  • Pensions

  • Disability payments

  • Unemployment benefits

  • Interest income

  • Cash received from friends and relatives.

There is some income that is not counted when applying for SSI. Non-countable payments include:

  • The first $20 of most income received a month

  • The first $65 of earnings and one half of earnings over $65 received during a month

  • Income tax refunds

  • Home energy assistance

  • Assistance based on need funded by a state or local government

  • Small amounts of income received irregularly or infrequently

  • Interest or dividends earned on countable resources or resources excluded under other federal law

  • Fellowships or gifts used for tuition and educational expenses

  • Food or shelter based on need provided by nonprofit agencies

  • Loans that must be repaid

  • Money someone else spends to pay for your expenses for items other than food or shelter such as paying a telephone or medical bill

  • Income set aside under a plan to achieve self-support

  • Earnings up to $1,640 per month to a maximum of $6660 per year for a student under age 22

  • The value of work expenses for items or services the disabled person needs in order to work

  • The value of work expenses that a blind person incurs in order to work

  • Disaster assistance

  • Certain exclusions on Indian trust fund payments paid to American Indians.

In-kind income

This refers to food or shelter that is received for free or for less than its fair market value. Deemed income is a part of the income of a spouse with whom individual lives, a parent with whom individual lives, or a sponsor of an alien which is used to compute the available SSI benefit amount.

Whenever an individual who is eligible for SSI benefits lives with a spouse who is not receiving or eligible for SSI benefits, some of the spouse's income may be counted in figuring SSI benefits. When a disabled or blind child under age 18 lives with a parent or stepparent and at least one parent does not receive SSI benefits, some of the parent’s income may be counted. When an alien has a sponsor, some or all of the sponsor’s income may be counted.  Deemed income does not apply when the SSI recipient no longer lives with a spouse or parent; when the disabled or blind child reaches age 18; or when alien sponsorship events.

Direct Payments

Any money paid directly to the disabled person from the trust will reduce the individual's SSI benefits.

In-Kind Payments

Money that is paid directly to someone else to provide the disabled person with food or shelter will reduce the SSI benefit up by one-third. This could reduce an SSI payment down to $480.67.  See an explanation on the Social Security website.  Any money paid directly to someone to provide the disabled person with items other than food and shelter does not reduce SSI benefits. Examples of such items are medical care, telephone bills, education, entertainment, etc.

Resources

SSI limits the amount of resources that an individual may have in order to remain eligible for benefits under the SSI program.  For an individual or child the resources may not exceed $2,000. For a couple, the resources may not exceed $3,000.

Resources that are considered in the eligibility determination include cash, bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds, land, vehicles, personal property, life insurance, and anything else that could be converted to cash and used for food or shelter.

Resources that do not count for SSI eligibility purposes include the following:

  • The home you live in and the land that it is on;

  • Household goods and personal effects;

  • Wedding and engagement rings;

  • Burial spaces for the disabled individual and his or her immediate family;

  • Burial funds for the disabled individual and his or her spouse of $1500 or less;

  • One vehicle regardless of value that is used for transportation;

  • Retroactive Social Security benefits for up to nine months after you receive the award;

  • Property essential for self-support;

  • Resources that a blind or disabled person needs as part of an approved plan for achieving self-support (PASS);

  • Money saved in an individual development account (IDA);

  • Cash received for medical or social services not counted as income