Supplemental Security Income - dummies

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2018 by AARP. All rights reserved.

SSI provides cash assistance to people who are 65 or older, blind, or disabled, all of whom must have extreme financial need to qualify. About 6 million individuals who are under 65 get SSI; overall, about 8.2 million people get it. The program is funded through general tax revenues, and it isn’t considered a basic social insurance benefit (such as retirement, SSDI, or survivor benefits). That’s because SSI pays benefits based on need and without regard to work history, earnings, or payroll taxes.

SSI imposes certain requirements to make sure that benefits go to those who meet its stringent income standards. Beneficiaries must have income below the federal payment standard (set at $735 for individuals and $1,103 for couples in 2017). Personal assets, such as cash or mutual funds, were restricted to $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples. A car may be excluded under certain circumstances, such as if it’s used for work or to get needed medical care.

Different factors affect the income calculation, including varying state policies and personal circumstances, such as housing arrangements. Also, the SSA doesn’t count all income. Exclusions include the first $20 per month in unearned income (a broad category of income other than wages you earn from an employer), the first $65 per month in earnings (and one-half the remainder), and a portion of certain assistance (such as food stamps).

SSI payment amounts also vary, based on state policies and personal circumstances.

Healthcare coverage is another difference between SSI and SSDI. SSDI beneficiaries typically qualify for Medicare after two years (a significant exception to Medicare’s general rule of providing coverage for people who have reached age 65). In most states, SSI beneficiaries get healthcare benefits right away through Medicaid, which is a state-federal program of healthcare for the poor. (In some states, you need to apply separately for Medicaid.)

It may be possible to get both SSI and SSDI benefits if you’ve earned benefits under Social Security and you also meet the stringent financial limits of SSI. If your SSDI payment is below the SSI amount, but you’re also poor enough to qualify for SSI, then SSI may make up the difference.

If you apply for SSDI, the SSA determines whether you qualify for SSI. But if you think you may be eligible for SSI, be sure to ask. The SSA should take applications for both SSDI and SSI at the time you apply.