Social Security Disability Benefits for American Indians and Alaska Natives

A few special rules apply to Social Security and Medicaid for Alaska Natives and Native American Indians.

Updated by , Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI benefits are available to all eligible people regardless of their race or ethnicity. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has developed some resources and benefits specifically to serve American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

What Benefits Can Native Americans Receive?

American Indians and Alaska Natives are eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is available only to disabled or elderly individuals who meet certain income and resource limits. Social Security counts income from earned sources (like working) and unearned sources (like interest payments from investments). Resources are things like stocks, bank accounts, or land.

Social Security won't count everything you own when determining whether you meet the resource limits, however. The types of assets that don't count towards SSI eligibility are called exclusions. Although some income and resource exclusions are available to everyone, there are also certain exclusions available only to American Indians or Alaska Natives.

SSI Income and Resource Exclusions for Native Americans

Specific Native American and Alaska Native tribes or nations may be able to exclude income or assets they received from the following sources from the SSI resource limits:

  • Indian Judgment Funds Distribution Act
  • Distribution of Indian Judgment Funds
  • Per Capita Act
  • Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and
  • Payments From Individual Interests in Trust or Restricted Lands.

However, specific rules and requirements must be met for you to be entitled to the exclusions under these programs. You can read about them on the Indian-Related Exclusions page on the SSA's website.

Note that Social Security does count the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) that all Alaskans receive each October when determining continuing eligibility for SSI benefits. You can read more about it here.

Specific Tribes and Nations

Here is a list of the tribes or nations that may be eligible for the income or resource exclusions discussed above:

  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
  • Blackfeet and Gros Ventre
  • Hopi and Navajo Tribes
  • Sac and Fox Indian Nation
  • Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians
  • Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation
  • Apache Tribe of the Mescalero Reservation
  • Pueblo of Santa Ana
  • Pueblo of Zia
  • Delaware Tribe of Indians
  • Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma
  • Passamaquoddy Tribe
  • Penobscot Nation
  • Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians
  • San Carlos Tribe of Arizona
  • Wyandot Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
  • Shawnee Tribe of Indians (Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and Cherokee Band of Shawnee descendants)
  • Miami Tribe of Oklahoma
  • Miami Indians of Indiana
  • Clallam Tribe of Indians of the State of Washington (Port Gamble Community, Lower Elwha Tribal Community, and Jamestown Band of Clallam Indians)
  • Pembina Chippewa Indians (Turtle Mountain Band, Chippewa Cree Tribe, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians of Montana)
  • Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of Fort Belknap Indian Community
  • Papago Tribe of Arizona
  • Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation
  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
  • Assiniboine Tribe of the Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana
  • Assiniboine Tribe of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation of Montana
  • Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe
  • Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma
  • Absentee Wyandottes
  • Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska
  • Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe
  • Prairie Island Sioux
  • Lower Sioux
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Communities of Minnesota
  • Chippewas of Lake Superior
  • Chippewas of the Mississippi
  • White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians
  • Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan
  • Chippewas of Lake Superior
  • Chippewas of the Mississippi
  • Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians
  • Aleuts
  • Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana
  • Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe
  • Yurok Indian Tribe
  • Wisconsin Band of Potawatomi (Hannahville Indian Community and Forest County Potawatomi)
  • Puyallup Tribe
  • Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
  • Seminole Tribe of Florida
  • Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida
  • independent Seminole Indians of Florida
  • Seneca Nation
  • Fallon Paiute Shoshone Indian Tribes
  • Catawba Indian Tribe
  • Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and
  • Western Shoshone Indians.

If you don't see your tribe or nation, contact the SSA.

Additional Possible Income Exclusions

American Indians and Alaska Natives may also be able to exclude income from the following sources when calculating SSI eligibility:

Click on the links above to learn more about the specific requirements for these exclusions.

SSI Amounts in Alaska

SSI amounts are determined by finding the difference between the Federal Benefit Rate (in 2024, $943) and your countable income (your income minus the deductions discussed above). Alaska also provides a supplement to SSI recipients called Adult Public Assistance (APA). If you qualify for SSI and are a resident of Alaska, you can receive APA income in addition to the federal amount.

The amount you receive depends on your living situation. As of 2024, you can get APA income in the amount of $362 as a single person in Alaska. If you're single and are getting help with food and housing, you would qualify for $365 in APA (but your SSI payment will be cut by one-third). If you live in an assisted living facility, and Medicaid pays for more than half the cost of your care, you will get only $170 in APA.

You can get more information on SSI and APA amounts in Alaska here.

Social Security Services for Native Americans

The SSA has developed a website to serve the unique needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. You can check out the AIAN website here.

Some tribal social services offices work with the SSA to have their employees make scheduled visits to the tribal office. In this case, you may be able to apply for Social Security disability or SSI at your tribal office during a scheduled time. Call your tribal social services office to see if this option is available.

Medicare and Medicaid for Native Americans

CMS Tribal Affairs is part of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This federal agency works with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes to provide healthcare access to members of tribal groups eligible for Medicaid or Medicare.

If you're approved for SSI, you may be eligible for Medicaid immediately. If you're approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you'll be eligible for Medicare after a two-year waiting period.

Eligibility for Alaska Residents for Medicare and Medicaid. Due to the high cost of living, Alaska has its own poverty guidelines. Alaska's specific guidelines determine when a resident of Alaska is eligible for federal services such as Medicaid, Medicare subsidies, and health plans purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

State-Specific Eligibility and Application Requirements for Medicaid. Most states automatically enroll SSI recipients into the Medicaid program, but not all. The following states require a separate application, though their eligibility requirements are the same as the federal government:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Oregon, and
  • Utah.

The majority of the states follow the federal government rules for eligibility for Medicaid. However, the following states have requirements for Medicaid that vary from the federal government's criteria (and they require a separate application):

  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma, and
  • Virginia.

For more information, see our articles on Medicare and Medicaid.

I'm Marrying a Native American, Can I Get Benefits as a Spouse?

Spouses, children, and other family members—including parents and, in certain circumstances, grandparents—of disabled American Indians and Alaska Natives can also be eligible for Social Security benefits. For further details, see our article on auxiliary ("dependents") benefits.

Partners in certain non-marital relationship statuses, such as domestic partnerships and civil unions, may also qualify for dependents benefits.

Applying for Disability Benefits

You can start your application for benefits in several ways:

  • File online at the Social Security website.
  • Call 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778 if you're deaf or hard of hearing) between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to speak with a representative.
  • Go in person to your local Social Security field office.

According to the National Indian Council on Aging, American Indians and Alaska Natives serve in the Armed Forces at a rate that's five times the national average. If you're a Native American veteran with a service-connected disability, you may qualify for VA compensation in addition to disability benefits.

Updated February 26, 2024

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