About Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Helping the Aged and Disabled to Meet Basic Needs

Social Security worker holding up a benefit check
U.S Treasury Facility Prints Social Security Checks. William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal government benefit program providing cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter to persons who are blind or otherwise disabled and have little or no other income.

Monthly SSI benefits are paid to persons with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Blind or disabled children, as well as adults, can qualify to get SSI benefits.

How SSI is Different From Retirement Benefits

While the SSI program is administered by the Social Security Administration, the way in which SSI benefits are administered is very different from how Social Security retirement benefits are paid.

SSI benefits do not require and are not based on the recipient's prior work or a family member's prior work. In other words, no current or prior employment is required to qualify for SSI benefits.

Unlike Social Security benefits, SSI benefits are funded by general funds from the U.S. Treasury generated by income taxes paid be individuals and corporations. Social Security taxes withheld from workers' paychecks under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) do not help fund the SSI program. Total SSI funding, along with maximum monthly amounts to be paid to SSI recipients, are set annually by Congress as part of the federal budget process.

SSI recipients in most states can also have their benefits supplemented by Medicaid to help pay for doctor bills, prescriptions and other health care costs.

SSI beneficiaries may also be eligible for food stamps in every state except California. In some states, an application for SSI benefits also serves as an application for food stamps.

Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits

Anyone who is:

  • aged (age 65 or older);
  • blind or disabled.

And, who:

  • has limited income; and
  • has limited resources; and
  • is a U.S. citizen or national, or in one of certain categories of aliens; and
  • is not absent from the country for a full calendar month or for 30 consecutive days or more; and
  • is not confined to an institution (such as a hospital or prison) at the government's expense; and
  • applies for any other cash benefits or payments for which he or she may be eligible, (for example, pensions, Social Security benefits); and
  • gives SSA permission to contact any financial institution and request any financial records about you; and
  • files an application; and
  • meets certain other requirements.

What Does ‘Limited Income’ Include?

For purposes of determining SSI eligibility, Social Security counts the following as income:

  • money you earn from work;
  • money you receive from other sources, such as Social Security benefits, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs, friends or relatives; and
  • free food or shelter.

What Are ‘Limited Resources’?

For purposes of determining SSI eligibility, Social Security counts the following as limited resources:

  • cash;
  • bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds;
  • land and real estate;
  • vehicles;
  • personal property;
  • life insurance; and
  • anything else you own that could be converted to cash and used for food or shelter.

NOTE: For complete details on the SSI program, including qualifications and how to apply for benefits, see the Understanding Supplemental Security Income home page on the SSA website

SSI Payment Details

Amounts of SSI benefit payments are set annually by Congress and are typically adjusted every January to reflect the current cost of living. Maximum (SSI) payment amounts increase with the cost-of-living increases (COLA) that apply to Social Security retirement benefits.

Some states provide supplemental SSI benefits. SSI benefit payments are not taxable.

Possible Benefit Reductions

Exact benefit amounts paid to individual SSI recipients may be less than the maximum depending on non-SSI income, like wages and other Social Security benefits. Persons living in their own home, in the home of another person, or in a Medicaid-approved nursing home may also have their SSI payments reduced accordingly.

The monthly amount is reduced by subtracting monthly countable income. In the case of an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, the amount payable is further divided equally between the two spouses. 

Updated current maximum and average SSI payment amounts can be found on the SSI Statistics web site.

SSI Work Incentive Programs

Helping people with disabilities achieve independence by taking advantage of employment opportunities is one of the Social Security Administration’s highest priorities. SSI’s work incentive programs help disabled and blind SSI recipients to continue to work while minimizing the risk of losing their SSI or Medicaid benefits.

Certain work incentive programs allow SSI recipients to exempt some of their work income from their list of resources. Others allow SSI recipients to continue to receive Medicaid coverage even though they are not receiving monthly SSI cash benefits.

SSI recipients may be eligible to take advantage of more than one work incentive program. As with Social Security retirement benefits, working can reduce the amount of the recipient’s SSI benefit payments. Complete information on SSI work incentive opportunities can be found in the SSA’s “The Red Book - A Guide to Work Incentives.”

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Longley, Robert. "About Supplemental Security Income (SSI)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/about-supplemental-security-income-ssi-3321405. Longley, Robert. (2020, August 26). About Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/about-supplemental-security-income-ssi-3321405 Longley, Robert. "About Supplemental Security Income (SSI)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/about-supplemental-security-income-ssi-3321405 (accessed January 21, 2021).

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