What Are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability Benefits?

SSI provides disability benefits for low-income disabled people who don't qualify for Social Security benefits.

By , Attorney

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that provides a monthly check to low-income people who are:

  • elderly (65 or older)
  • blind (corrected vision isn't better than 20/200), or
  • disabled (unable to perform gainful work activity for 12 months or more).

For disabled people who've never worked or those who haven't worked enough in recent years to qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), SSI may be the only program available to them. However, the SSI program is tough to qualify for financially—you need to fall under SSI's very low income and asset limits.

How to Qualify for SSI?

Most people who qualify for food stamps or Medicaid will also be eligible for SSI. To qualify for SSI, you must have "limited resources." Resources that SSI limits include:

  • cash (no more than $2,000 for one person or $3,000 for a couple)
  • bank accounts
  • stocks, mutual funds, savings bonds
  • land
  • vehicles
  • personal property
  • life insurance, and
  • anything else you own that can be converted into cash or used for food/shelter.

When Social Security is deciding if an applicant qualifies for benefits, they don't count your home, one vehicle, or personal effects (like wedding or engagement rings). For more detailed information about qualifying for SSI, please see our articles about income limits and asset limits.

How Much Does SSI Pay?

The monthly payment amount for the SSI program is based on the "federal benefit rate" (FBR). In 2023, the FBR is $914 per month for individuals and $1,371 for couples. (The FBR increases annually if there's a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.)

The FBR is the maximum federal monthly SSI payment. The income you receive during the month, minus certain exclusions, can be subtracted from your federal monthly SSI payment. Additionally, state money can be added to your federal monthly payment. For more detailed information, please see our article about SSI payments.

What Are State Supplements?

Most states add on a state supplement, an extra payment that's added to the federal benefit payment. Every state except Arizona, North Dakota, and West Virginia adds money to the federal SSI payment for at least some types of recipients. The amount of the state supplement varies between states, from $10 to $400, and also depends on whether you're single or married, and whether you're living in a nursing home, assisted living, on your own, or with others.

For more information, see our article on the state supplementary payment.

What Is the Earned Income Exclusion?

If you earn income, you're allowed to deduct a certain amount of the income before it gets subtracted from your SSI payment. You can subtract $65 from your earned income, plus another $20 for earned or unearned income, and then subtract half your remaining income. Only what's left after these deductions will be subtracted from your SSI payment.

Social Security doesn't guarantee a minimum SSI payment amount, so if your earned income exceeds a certain amount, it might erase your SSI amount.

For example, if you earn $1,913 per month, Social Security will deduct the first $65 plus another $20, leaving $1,828. Then, Social Security would disregard half of your remaining earnings, leaving $914. Social Security deducts that amount from the FBR ($914 in 2023), which would leave a $0 monthly SSI benefit amount.

Social Security could also reduce your monthly benefit amount if you receive free room and board—what's called "in-kind support and maintenance."

What Is In-Kind Support and Maintenance?

If you receive SSI benefits and someone provides you with shelter and/or food that you don't pay for, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will count this as income and subtract it from your SSI payment. In other words, the SSA reduces your monthly SSI payment to account for this in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) because Social Security believes you don't need the full SSI payment since you're receiving some food or shelter for free.

For more information, see our article on how income and in-kind support affects your SSI payment.

How Long Does an SSI Disability Claim Take?

Just how long you have to wait for a decision on an SSI disability application varies from case to case. Most claims are initially decided in six to eight months. But it can take longer. For instance, if you've had surgery, Social Security can delay a decision to see if your medical outlook changes.

And because most SSI claims are initially denied, you'll likely have to file an appeal, a process that can take a couple of years. Why so long? Partially because of the tremendous backlog of appeal hearings.

Learn more about how long it usually takes to get disability benefits.

What Are the Chances of Winning SSI Disability at a Hearing?

Your odds of winning an SSI disability claim depend on a lot of factors, like where you live and where you are in the Social Security claims process. For instance, in Alaska, 70% of initial claims are approved, while in Washington, D.C., it's only 30% (in 2023).

Across the country, most successful disability claims are won at the appeal hearing level. Many factors can affect your chances of winning SSI benefits at your disability hearing, including things like:

  • having an attorney or representative (your chance of winning jumps from about 45% without a lawyer to around 65% with one), and
  • your age (applicants over 50 have a better chance of getting disability because of Social Security's medical-vocational grid rules).

Learn more about what affects your chances of winning at a disability hearing.

Do SSI Payments Increase Every Year?

SSI payments usually increase annually (but not always) based on the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The purpose of the cost-of-living adjustment is to make sure that SSI payments keep up with rising inflation. In the past 12 years, the cost-of-living adjustment averaged 1.4%, but in January 2023, Social Security saw its largest cost-of-living adjustment in decades (8.7%), which raised the monthly FBR from $841 to $914.

When Are SSI Payments Deposited?

SSI benefits are normally paid on the first day of each month unless the first is on a weekend or holiday. Here is our SSI payment calendar for 2023.

What Are Concurrent SSI and SSDI Benefits?

For applicants who receive a low SSDI payment, Supplemental Security Income does exactly what its name implies. It supplements.

For example, if an approved disability claimant receives SSDI monthly benefits of $400, an SSI award could be used to guarantee that the claimant's total monthly benefits equal the federal SSI amount, which is currently $914 per month. The SSDI recipient would receive an additional $514 in SSI to bring their total monthly benefits to $914, an amount equal to the full SSI monthly benefit amount in 2023.

Getting SSI and SSDI at the same time is called "receiving concurrent benefits."

Of course, this scenario won't happen in every such case. Because SSI has "resource" (asset) limits (currently, you can't have more than $2,000 in disposable assets), many SSDI claimants won't be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income, no matter how low their SSDI benefit amount is.

For more information, see our article on concurrent SSI and SSDI benefits.

How Do I Apply for SSI?

Previously, Social Security didn't allow applicants to apply for SSI online, but now SSI applicants can start their application online if they:

  • are 18 or older
  • haven't been denied disability benefits within the last 60 days, and
  • aren't currently receiving Social Security benefits on their own record.

After SSI applicants submit some basic information online, Social Security will contact them to set up an appointment to finish the process.

Applicants can also contact Social Security at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) to complete their application over the phone or schedule an in-person interview at a local Social Security office. For more detailed information, please see our article about applying for SSI.

Updated September 26, 2023

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