Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Explained

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) written on a paper.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal aid program that provides financial assistance and resources to seniors and those with disabilities. SSI is run by the Social Security Administration.

Supplemental Security Income is income-based and delivered as needed depending on the individual and their circumstances. 

How Does SSI Work?

Supplement Security Income requires an application and approval process. If approved, it provides a monthly payment for those with low income and restricted access to healthy resources because of their disability. 

Most U.S. states offer medical and healthcare assistance through SSI as well. This added health insurance assistance can help pay for nursing homes, hospital visits, medical bills, medications, and more. Other added benefits such as state supplemental state income and food assistance apply, depending on the situation.

Elderly couple in wheelchairs, holding hands
SSI requires recipients to have less than $2,000 in assets, for a single person, and $3,000 for a couple.

How Does Someone Get SSI? 

There are several requirements needed to be eligible for receiving SSI. The main requirement is being a child or adult with a disability, being over the age of 65, or being legally blind. You must also have limited income and/or limited access to resources. 

SSI is different from Social Security benefits. Social Security is based on prior work history and income, whereas Supplemental Security Income is mostly based on income (or lack of income).

If you legally worked in the United States for a certain period of time and formerly (or presently) paid Social Security taxes, you qualify.

Where Does SSI Aid Come From?

SSI is provided by the United States Treasury, not by Social Security tax. Funds come from taxes from corporations, income tax, and some state taxes, depending on the state. Employers pay a fixed rate to help fund SSI for the disabled. Federal taxes such as FICA do not fund SSI.

Who Qualifies for SSI?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has all the information you need when looking to apply for SSI. To quality for SSI and benefits, you must be:

  • Blind, disabled, or over 65 years of age 
  • A citizen of the United States, or qualified alien 
  • Have limited access to income and living resources 
  • Not currently under the care of a government institution (such as prisons or mental hospitals)
  • Gives permission for the SSA to inquire about financial records and taxes
  • Fully and honestly complete an application 
  • Not be vacant from the United States for more than 30 days at a time

Only U.S. citizens and qualified aliens are capable of receiving Supplemental Security Income. Being considered a U.S. national, which means you aren’t a U.S. citizen but are still protected by the United States government, still qualifies you to apply for SSI.

A “national” is not a citizen with the same rights as Americans, but can still receive benefits and aid. People from Swain Islands or American Samoa are nationals. 

People who are currently receiving other benefits, such as Social Security, unemployment, or food stamps can still receive SSI, but it might affect the amount you are able to receive monthly.

Qualifications Needed to Receive SSI:

People Over 65 Years Old

“Aged” individuals are adults over 65 years of age. Seniors are often qualifying for receiving Supplemental Security Income for disability resources. Most recipients of SSI are seniors who are no longer able to work fully and therefore have a limited source of income. 

One of the reasons SSI exists is to provide the resources needed for the elderly. Things like housing, caregiver aid, medications, and doctor’s bills are part of SSI benefits. Some states even allow Medicare or Medicaid help for seniors. 

Children and Adults With Disabilities

Disabled children can also qualify for SSI. The parent or legal guardian of the child must apply for them to receive benefits. A child with a disability, which means any ongoing physical or mental condition that severely affects normal functioning or leads to death, can be eligible for SSI.

Applying for child SSI requires state eligibility to review the application as well, in case any added state supplemental aid is available for the child and family. 

The Blind

People with blindness also qualify for SSI. Certain requirements define what “blindness” means for receiving SSI. However, even if you are not legally blind but have a severe visual impairment, you might still be able to apply to receive SSI. 

U.S. Citizenship

A U.S. citizen is an individual who was born in the United States or U.S. territories. A citizen is also eligible to legally work in this country at 18 years of age or older.

Other U.S. citizens include legal immigrants who have been accepted as citizens through naturalization. 

Live in One of 50 States or Legal Territories

To qualify for Supplemental Security Income you must live in one of the 50 states or legal territories. People in the Northern Mariana Islands or the District of Columbia also qualify. Children of an active military parent who is currently serving overseas are also legally eligible.

Haven’t Left the Country for 30 Days or More

A person who leaves the country for a total of 30 days or more won’t be eligible for SSI that following month. This is because SSI is meant to serve people living in the United States and receive benefits while in the U.S. 

Family Member Caregivers of a Disabled Person with SSI

Family and legal caregivers of those with disabilities can even apply to receive Supplemental Security Income. The process of your qualifications is best reviewed at your nearest Social Security office in person or over the phone.

There are many factors that dictate whether or not you’ll be qualified for receiving income and benefits as an SSI care provider. The SSA will need to run a detailed review of you and your patient (or family member)’s medical and financial details.

Since Supplemental Security Income is a form of disability benefits offered on a needs-based scale, the amount of SSI benefits you receive vary greatly on your income situation. 

If you’re the parent of a child with a disability or the adult child of an elder with a disability, it’s possible for you to receive SSI aid if you’re considered the full-time caregiver. You can also apply for a disabled person if they are unable to apply for themselves.

People hand holding eraser for change word "disability" to "ability"
SSI helps disabled people via healthcare aid.

How Does SSI Help People With Disabilities?

The Social Security Administration helps people with disabilities in two main ways. One is through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which provides payroll aid to people with limited employment options due to their personal disability.

The second is through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as we’ve discussed so far. Aside from supplemental income, SSI provides people with healthcare aid.

Although they will not pay for the cost of caregivers upfront, it can help supplement other aid such as Medicaid, as Medicaid is based on a low income.

How Much Does SSI Pay Those With Eligibility? 

SSI helps the disabled by offering up to $794 per individual per month. For a married couple, SSI offers up to $1,191 per month. However, the amount paid to the individual or couple varies depending on their alternative sources of income or aid, such as Social Security, non-cash earnings, and more.

When reviewing your application and personal information, the Social Security Administration will also conduct a “deeming of resources”. This is when they review certain possessions that are valuable and add to the price of living and income for you or your family.

Things such as your car, life insurance, cash, property, or anything else that can be exchanged for payment all account for deemable resources. The total amount of deemable resources taken out from income status when applying for SSI are equal to $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples.

You can view a detailed list of all the resources that do and do not count when applying for SSI on this Social Security information page.

Do Supplemental Security Income Benefits Pay for Caregivers?

SSI Benefits do not pay directly for the cost of obtaining a caregiver. However, SSI can assist patients in meeting other financial needs while they receive assistance from caregivers elsewhere. 

Since living with disabilities can be difficult, it’s recommended that you seek multiple forms of aid for you or your loved one with a disability. There are many options in the United States to receive assistance, both federally and through the state you and your family live in.

Other programs can help you afford the type of caregivers you need, such as Caregiver Assistance Programs and becoming a paid full-time caregiver to a family member.

Can a Family Member Receive SSI for Taking Care of a Loved One?

Yes, sometimes a family member can apply to receive SSI for providing caregiving services to a  loved one. Caring for a family member with a disability can take up a lot of your time, energy, and financial resources.

That’s why there are options available for those who take personal care of a loved one full-time. Because they are busy caring for their disabled or elderly family member, the caregiver cannot spend normal hours at a regular job that provides consistent income. 

If you’re a spouse of a disabled senior, you might qualify for additional SSI or SSDI benefits. You must be at least 62 years old, formerly dependent on the now disabled person, and eligible to receive government aid. 

Some people even create “care contracts” in which the disabled person allocates a certain amount of income to the family caregiver for their time and service. A stipend or monthly payment may be established within a legal agreement between the caregiver and the patient.

However, this is only advised if you and the disabled person consult a contract from a lawyer to protect each of you from potential legal troubles. When it comes to family and financial matters, things can get messy if left unaddressed or undone. 

Application form with ballpoint pen. Focus on social security number's fields.
You can apply for SSI either online or in-person at the Social Security office.

What You’ll Need to Apply

To apply for Supplemental Security Income, first, you must meet the eligibility requirements:

  • Blind
  • Disabled
  • 65 years or older
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Limited income and resources 
  • Other standards for eligibility

If you meet these basic standards, you will need to apply for SSI through a Social Security office or online. It’s wise to go in person and receive the assistance of a professional SSA worker who knows each step to guide you through. 

They’ll ask for your proof of income, medical records, level of care services required, details of your disability, living situation, and other necessary detailed information. 

Other Things to Know About SSI

Now that you are aware of the basics involved with Supplemental Security Income and SSDI, there are other finer details you need to know when interested in applying for aid. 

States Excluded from Additional SSI

Even though most states have their own additional aid for Supplemental Security Income, some states don’t supplement federal SSI.

The states that do not offer additional assistance are Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia. North Mariana Island, a national territory with the U.S., also does not offer state assistance.

Married Couples

Couples can receive benefits from SSI. They can apply as a couple and receive a higher monthly payment combined if their circumstances qualify them. Spousal care is one of the sections to fill out during the application process.

Apply with an employee at the Social Services department, as they’ll be able to help you with other details such as social security retirement benefits and more. 

Payment Frequency

SSI is paid on the first of the month every month. Again, cash benefit amounts and other aid like waivers vary depending on the application process, the person’s income, and the U.S. state in which they reside. 

Non-Citizens of the United States

Some immigrants and non-American citizens can still qualify for SSI benefits. The requirements are: 

  • Meet the list of requirements of being a qualified alien 
  • Be a national who’s part of the legal U.S. territories 
  • Legal to work in the United States over 18 years of age and receive income

Who Is Not Able to Receive SSI?

You will not be able to apply for or receive SSI if you are:

  • In jail
  • Currently under the care of a public institution (such as a hospital) 
  • An illegal immigrant 
  • A qualified alien who gets your legal status revoked or changed 
  • Have left the United States for more than 30 days at a time
  • Are caught selling redeemable resources for less than they’re worth, in attempts to cheat the $2,000 or $3,000 value limit qualification 
  • Are charged with a felony or have a warrant for your arrest 

Supplemental Security Income and Caregivers 

If you are receiving SSI or thinking about applying for SSI, hopefully this article sets you on the right track toward getting the most benefit out of Social Security disability benefits.

If you still need caregiver services for a disability or are a senior living at home who needs help or home health care, don’t hesitate to call the main Social Security Administration helpline at 1-800-772-1213. 

SSI for Family Caregivers 

If you’re a family member or loved one who’s concerned about providing a caregiver for someone you care about, you can also receive help in finding what you need at your income level. 

You can contact the above SSA helpline number or visit online. You can also look into other options for becoming a paid family caregiver to your loved one. Other programs such as the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provide further caregiver support for those already caring for their family.

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