Supplemental Security Income is a program jointly operated by the federal and state governments and administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Its purpose is to guarantee a minimum level of income to financially-distresses older, blind, and disabled individuals. SSI eligibility is based entirely on age or disability, and on financial need as determined by both personal income and assets. As such, the applicant must be quite financially needy in order to qualify for SSI payments. In fact, income and assets must be so low that many people with no income other than Social Security retirement benefits are not eligible for SSI, while others receive only a small SSI supplement to their Social Security income. Unlike Social Security, SSI benefits do not depend on how long the recipient has worked or the amount that was paid into the Social Security system.
There are four basic requirements that must be met in order to receive SSI cash benefits:
- The applicant must be 65 or older, or blind or disabled.
- If the individual is a new applicant for SSI benefits, he or she must be a citizen of the United States, or meet strict requirements for longtime residency, military service, or political asylum- or refugee status. (Some legal permanent residents may also be eligible if they're blind or disabled.)
- The applicant's monthly income must be less than a certain minimum amount established by the resident state.
- The applicant's total assets must be worth less than $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple); certain items are excluded from this amount, such as a home and car.
The complete eligibility rules are considerably more complex than those stated in the basic requirements; however, the complications usually always make it easier to qualify for SSI benefits. Generally speaking, the applicant is permitted to have more income and assets than the initial figures indicate. Additionally, applicants who qualify for SSI may also be eligible for Medicaid and food stamps, as well as free rehabilitation and home care programs.
The amount of the SSI supplement can vary depending on the applicant's resident state, as well as the amount of his or her countable income. The basic federal SSI payments (effective January 1, 2007) are $623 a month for an eligible individual and $934 a month for an eligible couple. These figures are adjusted on January 1st of each year, with the amount of increase being dependent upon changes in the federal Consumer Price Index.
A number of states pay supplements to the basic federal SSI amount. In these states, the supplement is added directly onto the federal SSI payment. This means that the applicant need apply only once – to Social Security – to receive both the basic amount and the supplement. Both amounts are included in one payment, which is administered by the SSA. The supplement amount differs for a single individual, a couple, or a person who is blind. The amount may also differ if the person lives in the household of someone else, in group living arrangements, or in a nursing facility. States in which the supplement is federally administered include California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont. (In several of these locations, the individual State administers the supplement for people living in certain residential settings, while the SSA administers the supplement for other residential arrangements.)
Most other states also provide some kind of supplement to the basic federal SSI payment, but the types of supplements and rules for qualifying are administered solely by those states. These supplements must be applied for separately, at the social welfare agency of the applicant's county of residence.