SSI is frequently confused with Social Security benefits. The two programs have similar names and purposes but reach an entirely different audience. Both programs are managed by the United States Social Security Administration, and many SSI beneficiaries are eligible for general Social Security, which adds to the overall confusion. The main difference between the programs is SSI is intended for any beneficiaries who are 65 years of age or older, disabled or blind.
Social Security benefits are earned from working long enough to pay your Social Security taxes. SSI does not require you to have paid any taxes to be eligible. In addition, Social Security benefits restrict you from other aid programs, such as Medicaid and SNAP. If you receive SSI benefits, you are eligible for other assistance programs. The amount you receive and when your payments process changes depending on the program in which you are enrolled. More information about what SSI benefits provide and how you can apply for benefits are detailed below.
The main purpose of SSI is to provide funds to disabled residents or senior citizens who are unable to earn a living wage on their own. The amount you receive changes each year based on the general cost of living. In recent years, the base SSI payment has increased. Whether you file for benefits as an individual or a couple changes how much you receive. The 2019 benefit increased to $771 for individuals and $1,157 for couples.
In addition to the base payment, some states provide an additional payment. How much you receive depends on where you live. As of writing, the following states do not provide any additional income:
In other states, any supplemental payments are handled by the Social Security offices. California, Iowa, New Jersey and Nevada are several states where this option is available. Other states with this option include:
The remaining states provide a supplemental payment, but this payment is not decided by the Social Security administration. As a result, each state offers a different amount, typically based around what is considered a reasonable living wage in those particular states.
Only a few requirements exist to determine your eligibility for SSI. Applicants must either be aged, disabled or blind. Aged refers to any applicants who are at least 65 years of age. In addition, applicants must have limited income or resources. All applicants must be legal citizens. Noncitizens are allowed to apply for benefits if they prove they are legally in the country. Applicants must be able to prove they are permanent residents in either one of the fifty states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands.
In addition to permanently residing in the United States, applicants must not be absent from the United States for either an entire calendar month, or a period exceeding 30 consecutive days. Applicants who are confined to a hospital or any other federally funded building are unable to apply for SSI benefits. If you are receiving other federal payments you can still apply for SSI benefits, but you must disclose you are receiving assistance from these other programs, such as Social Security or pension payments.
Blindness is a blanket term to refer to vision problems. Some residents are declared legally blind because of vision problems, despite technically being able to see. If you have a central visual acuity that is either 20/200 or less in one of your eyes, even with corrective lenses, you are considered blind for the purposes of SSI. You are considered blind for SSI purposes if you have a visual field limitation in your good eye where you are unable to see beyond 20 degrees. If you are unsure if you meet either of these requirements, consult your doctor.
If you have a visual impairment but do not meet either of the above requirements, you may still be eligible for SSI benefits. This is handled on a case by case basis, largely determined by how limited you are by your condition. If you are unable to see safely because of your blindness, even if it does not meet the necessary SSI requirements, you may still be eligible for SSI benefits.
Like blindness, varying degrees of disability exist. Disability has a different definition depending on your age. If you are an adult, you are considered disabled if you have a medical condition which makes it so you are unable to reasonably or safely work. Your medical condition must have lasted for at least a continuous period of 12 months to qualify. If you suffered a serious injury where you are unable to work for a year but are in the process of recovering, you are not considered disabled for the purpose of SSI benefits.
In addition, some medical conditions automatically make you eligible for SSI benefits. If you are unsure whether one of your conditions qualifies, make an appointment with a Compassionate Allowances (CAL) agent.
Applicants who are under 18 years of age share the above requirements for disability but are considered disabled if they have an emotional or learning disability which severely limits their day to day functions.
To qualify for SSI benefits, you must demonstrate the necessary financial need. The exact financial requirements change each year to reflect the cost of living. Where you are applying for benefits impacts these requirements as well. Any income you earn from work or through other financial programs is assessed during your application. This includes the money in your bank account, any funds you inherited and the value of land or vehicles you own. In some cases, you may be eligible or SSI benefits even if you exceed certain monetary thresholds, but it does impact how much you receive each month. Whether you apply for benefits as an individual or couple changes the monetary thresholds. Individuals or children who apply can ignore their first $2,000 in income, while couples can ignore the first $3,000.