What is Supplemental Security Income?

Claimants seeking Alaska Social Security disability benefits often ask me “What is Supplemental Security Income?” Supplemental Security Income is often referred to as SSI. They frequently want to know if they are eligible for both Alaska Social Security disability benefits and SSI, or some combination of the two.

I tell them yes they may be eligible for both Alaska Social Security disability benefits and SSI, or some combination of the two. But, if they qualify for both, they may lose SSI benefits or received a reduced SSI amount, depending on the amount of the Social Security disability benefits. I point out, though, that if the amount of Social Security disability benefits they receive disqualifies them from receiving SSI, they still may get SSI during the five-month waiting period after becoming disabled when no Social Security disability benefits are paid, assuming assets and any other income are small enough.

The SSI program explained

The SSI program is a federal welfare program for the disabled, blind and those over 65. It makes monthly payments to people who have little resources and low income. Many states, including the state of Alaska, supplement the federal SSI benefit. The state benefit amount varies from state to state.

The SSI program, like the Social Security disability program, is run by the Social Security Administration. However, while Social Security disability benefits are paid out of the Social Security trust fund, Supplemental Security Income disability benefits come from the U.S. Government’s general revenues.

Qualification requirements for SSI disability benefits

You must meet the following requirements to be eligible for SSI disability benefits:

  • You must be found to be “disabled.” The definition of “disabled” for the SSI program is the same definition as is used for the Social Security disability program. For more information, see my video Will you qualify for Social Security disability benefits?
  • You must meet the SSI program’s income and asset limitation requirements.
  • You must be an U.S. citizen or a non-citizen who meets the alien eligibility criteria under the 1996 Social Security legislation and its amendments. Under this legislation, aliens who were lawfully residing in the United States on August 22, 1996 are, for the most part, eligible for SSI disability benefits; but those who arrived later are ineligible with limited exceptions. A non-citizen must also meet all of the other requirements for SSI eligibility, including the limits on income and assets. For more information, see http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-non-citizens.htm.

Unlike the Social Security disability program, there is no “insured” or earnings requirement in order to receive SSI disability benefits. SSI benefits are not paid for by Social Security taxes; and the payment of Social Security taxes is not required. However, your income and assets must not exceed the SSI program’s income and asset limitations, which are discussed in greater detail below.

Asset and income limitations

The SSI program is a needs-based program. Unlike the Social Security disability program where there are no asset limitations, the SSI program has an asset limitation of $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per couple. Assets include things like real estate, cash, stock and bonds.

The Social Security Administration doesn’t count everything you own in determining the value of your assets. For example, they don’t count: a home of any value (as long as it is lived in), one car of any value (if it is used for work or to obtain medical care), and life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or less.

The SSI income limit is based on the monthly SSI benefit amount after several different kinds and amounts of unearned and earned income are not counted. “Income” is money you receive such as wages, pensions and Social Security benefits, and can also include things like food and shelter. The Social Security Administration doesn’t count income such as the first $20 a month of most income you receive; food stamps; and shelter you receive from a nonprofit organization. The Social Security Administration counts as income things like your spouse’s income. The income amount left after the Social Security Administration has made all of its allowable deductions is referred to as “countable income.”

If your monthly countable income is over the SSI disability benefit amount, you cannot receive SSI disability benefits. And the more countable income you have, the less your benefit will be. People who receive support and maintenance (such as from a relative) are often eligible for less SSI disability benefits.

Amount of SSI disability benefit payment

The amount you receive is a federal amount set by Congress plus an Alaska SSI state supplement, if applicable. Whether you qualify for an Alaska SSI state supplement will depend on your living arrangements, and, if you do qualify, the amount of such Alaska SSI supplement will vary according to your living arrangements. Your countable income will be subtracted from the federal amount before the Alaska SSI state supplement is added. The SSI federal amount is adjusted each year based on changes in cost of living.

Waiting period to receive SSI disability benefits and retroactivity

There is no waiting period to receive SSI disability benefits. Your SSI payment will begin with the first month after all the SSI requirements are met or when the definition of disability is met, whichever is later. This is different than the Social Security disability program, which requires you to wait a full five months from the date of the onset of your disability.

There is no retroactive effect for an SSI disability application. You will only be eligible for SSI disability benefits beginning the month after your application. This is also different from the Social Security disability program, which has a retroactivity period of 12 months – meaning that you may be eligible for payment of up to 12 months of Social Security disability benefits prior to your application, if you were disabled during that time and all other requirements are met.

How to apply for SSI disability benefits

Separate applications are required to apply for each of Social Security disability and SSI benefits. However, the Social Security Administration will determine when you apply for disability benefits which program you are eligible for or if you are eligible for both.

You apply for SSI disability benefits the same way you apply for Social Security disability benefits:

  1. You can complete a large part of your application by visiting the Social Security Administration’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov.
  2. You can call the Social Security Administration toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday) to ask for an appointment with a Social Security representative from your local Alaska Social Security office. The appointment can be made to apply over the phone or to go to your local Alaska Social Security office to complete an application in person.

You also may visit an Alaska Social Security office without an appointment, but you may have to wait to speak to a representative.

When you go the your Alaska Social Security office, you should bring:

  • Your Social Security card or a record of your Social Security number;
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of your age;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen status;
  • Information about the home where you live, such as your mortgage or your lease and landlord’s name;
  • The names, addresses and telephone numbers of doctors, hospitals and clinics that you have been to;
  • Payroll slips, bank books, insurance policies, and other information about your income and the things you own; and
  • For direct deposit, you also should bring your checkbook or other papers that show your bank, credit union or savings and loan account number so the Alaska Social Security Administration can have your benefits deposited directly into your account.

Assistance from an Alaska disability attorney

If you want our help with your Social Security disability or SSI claim, and you are not already represented by an Alaska disability attorney, please give me a brief description of your situation using the form to the right.

Alaska disability attorney