What Are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability Benefits?

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

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

  • blind (corrected vision isn't better than 20/200 or visual field limitation of 20 degrees)
  • elderly (65 or older), 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, as it has 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 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.

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 are single or married and whether you are living in a nursing home, assisted living, on your own, or with others. For more information, see our article on the state supplementary payment.

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 of your earned income, plus another $20 for earned or unearned income, and then subtract half of the remainder—that is the amount you can deduct from your income. Only the remainder of the income 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; this would leave $1,828. Then, Social Security would disregard half of the rest of the 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 in-kind support or maintenance.

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), since the SSA believes that 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.

Annual Increases and the Cost-of-Living Adjustment

SSI payments usually (but not always) increase annually, based on the cost-of-living adjustment. 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.

Concurrent SSI and SSDI Benefits

For those 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 in the amount 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, a sum equal to the full SSI monthly benefit amount in 2023.

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

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

How to 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.

But 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 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 February 3, 2023

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