What Is Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program in the United States that provides additional income for older and disabled people with little to no income. This program provides participants with monthly cash distributions to help them meet their basic needs. SSI is different from standard Social Security retirement benefits.  

Key Takeaways

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides additional income to elderly or disabled citizens that have little other income to provide a basic safety net.
  • SSI is a separate program from social security income benefits for retired or disabled people.
  • For the year 2020, SSI pays a maximum of $783 per month to eligible individuals or $1,175 to couples.
  • In addition to federal SSI, many states also provide supplementary income to those in need.

Understanding Supplemental Security Income

SSI is a type of safety net for U.S. citizens or nationals who cannot meet their basic financial needs because of their age or a disability. SSI Payments arrive on the first day of each month and can also include food stamps and Medicaid benefits.

There are very specific requirements a person must meet to become eligible for SSI. First, SSI candidates must be 65 or older, blind, or disabled. Second, they must have limited income, limited resources, and be a U.S. citizen or national. Currently, SSI is only available to individuals earning $2,000 a month or less, or couples earning $3,000 a month or less.

Finally, there are other small requirements they must meet, like residency in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands.

In special cases, children under 18 may be considered disabled and earn SSI eligibility. For a child to qualify, the disability must result in severe functional limitations and can be expected to cause death or has lasted – or is expected to last – longer than 12 months.

Income Limit for SSI

The Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) outlines both the SSI income limit for eligibility and the maximum monthly SSI payment. The FBR currently sets monthly payments at $783 for an individual and $1,175 for couples, for the year 2020. The FBR will increase moderately each year in conjunction with the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, which tracks inflation. An additional $392 per month may be claimed for an "an essential person" as a stipend for those essential to the basic care of the person getting cash assistance.

To become eligible for SSI, a person or couple's combined income cannot exceed the monthly SSI payment as outlined by the FBR. However, the Social Security Administration only counts portions of a person's income towards the income limit. For example, if a person earns money from working, only half of the amount earned each month in excess of the first $65 will count when determining eligibility. Therefore, it's important to contact the SSA regarding a person's specific income and eligibility.

State Supplementary Income

Most states will also add money to the federal SSI payments. This added money will increase both the allowed income level for eligibility as well as the amount of the monthly SSI payment. The amount of the supplement varies from state to state, but a person may receive between $10 and $400 per month from the state in which they reside. According to the SSA website, Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, West Virginia, and the Northern Mariana Islands do not offer a state supplement, meaning people in those states can only earn eligibility and payment based on the federal minimums the FBR outlined.