Supplemental Security Income (SSI): What it Means, How it Works

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program in the United States that provides additional income for older adults and people with disabilities that have 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 older adults or citizens with disabilities that have little other income to provide a basic safety net.
  • SSI is a separate program from Social Security income benefits for retired adults or people with disabilities.
  • For the year 2022, SSI pays a maximum of $841 per month to eligible individuals or $1,261 to couples.
  • In addition to federal SSI, many states also provide supplementary income to those in need.
  • There are specific requirements for SSI including having limited income.

Understanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a 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. Recipients may also be eligible for food stamps and Medicaid benefits.

There are precise requirements a person must meet to become eligible for SSI. First, SSI candidates must be 65 or older, blind, or have a disability. Second, they must have limited income, limited resources, and be U.S. citizens or nationals. As of 2022, SSI is only available to individuals with assets of $2,000 or less or couples with $3,000 or less.

Finally, they must meet other small requirements, 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 the SSI income limit for eligibility and the maximum monthly SSI payment. The FBR currently sets monthly payments at $841 for an individual and $1,261 for couples for 2022. The FBR will increase moderately each year in conjunction with the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, tracking inflation. An additional $421 per month may be claimed for 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 over the first $65 will count when determining eligibility. Therefore, it's essential to contact the SSA regarding a person's specific income and eligibility.

For a child to qualify for SSI, the disability must be extremely severe, unlike for an individual who is age 65 or older.

Special Considerations

Most states will also add money to the federal SSI payments. This added money will increase both the allowed income level for eligibility and the amount of the monthly SSI payment. The amount of the supplement varies from state to state.

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.

Article Sources
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  1. Social Security Administration. "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Overview." Accessed Oct. 22, 2021.

  2. Social Security Administration. "SSI Federal Payment Amounts for 2022." Accessed Oct. 22, 2021.

  3. Social Security Administration. "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility Requirements." Accessed Oct. 22, 2021.

  4. Social Security Administration. "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Children." Accessed Oct. 22, 2021

  5. Social Security Administration. "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Income." Accessed Oct. 22, 2021.

  6. Social Security Administration. "Supplemental Security Income Benefits." Accessed Oct. 22, 2021.

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