A Brief Overview
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a monthly financial payment made to persons meeting specific eligibility requirements defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
- A person may be eligible for SSI if they are aged, blind or disabled; have limited income and resources; and are a citizen or resident of the United States.
- SSI is different from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is an insurance that workers earn by paying into taxes on their earnings.
- There is a special rule that allows dependent children of military families serving on overseas assignments to begin or continue receiving SSI benefits while outside of the United States.
What Is SSI?
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a monthly financial benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to people with limited income and resources who are age 65 or older, blind or disabled. Blind or disabled children, as well as adults, can get SSI.
To be eligible for SSI, a person must meet specific eligibility criteria, including:
- SSA definitions of aged, blind, or disabled
- Having limited income and resources
- Citizenship or residency status
A person who is 65 years of age or older may qualify for SSI as “aged” if they also meet the financial determination.
Blind or Disabled Determination
SSA defines “blind” as seeing at a level of 20/200 or less in the better eye with glasses or contacts, or having a limited field of vision that can only see things at within a 20-degree angle or less in the better eye. A person with a visual impairment that does not meet the criteria for blindness may still qualify for SSI based on the disability.
An adult or child may qualify for SSI as “disabled” if they have a physical or mental impairment that can be medically diagnosed through clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques for anatomical, physiological, and psychological irregularities. The condition must cause marked and severe functional limitations, including emotional or learning challenges, that have lasted or are supposed to last for at least 12 months without interruption.
A person aged 18 or older must qualify as an adult, which includes proving they are unable to do substantial gainful activity. Two (2) months before a child receiving SSI benefits turns 18, SSA will conduct a disability redetermination to determine whether the child meets the adult criteria to continue receiving SSI payments.
Eligibility for disability is determined by a team that includes a disability examiner and a medical or psychological consultant at a state agency known as the Disability Determination Service (DDS). The team will review medical and financial documents, and determine eligibility based on the documents provided or request more documents be provided.
It is necessary to complete both disability and financial determinations when assessing eligibility. This is because SSI eligibility determination may be used in other programs within your state.
Limited Income and Resources
SSI is a needs-based program. In order to receive SSI, the applicant must have limited income and resources.
If the applicant has too much income, their application will be denied, and they will be ineligible for SSI payments. A child does not earn income so part of their parent’s income will be attributed to the child. Different sources of income are treated differently and some have greater exclusions than others. When an adult applies on behalf of a child, the parent or guardian’s income is considered “deemed” income to the child. SSA will prorate the adult’s income among the family members to determine the amount applicable to the child.
If you received SSI in another state, be aware that some states have a higher income limit that allows an individual to receive SSI benefits despite being over the federally established income limits. Washington is not a state with a higher income limit and applications submitted in Washington state must meet the federal income limits.
Resources include both money (e.g., cash, bank accounts, Certificates of Deposit, stocks and bonds, investment accounts, life insurance) and property (e.g. vehicles, houses, real estate) that could be sold or converted to cash to pay for food or shelter. There are limits for how much an applicant may have in resources and maintain eligibility for SSI:
- An individual may have up to $2,000
- A couple may have up to $3,000
- When applying on behalf of a child, an adult may have an additional $2,000 in resources and a portion of the adult’s resources may be applied to the child
Some resources are excluded from the eligibility determination, including:
- Your house and the property you live on
- The first vehicle (per household)
- Most personal and household belongings
- Property that can’t be used or sold for income
- Up to $100,000 saved in an ABLE account
- Properly distributed funds from a special needs trust (SNT) on behalf of the individual with a disability
Citizenship or Residency Status
SSI is only available to U.S. citizens and nations residing in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands, and qualifying non-citizens with certain alien classifications granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). SSI benefits will stop if a person leaves the U.S. for a full calendar month or at least thirty (30) consecutive days, with the exception of dependent children of active duty servicemembers serving overseas.
Is SSI The Same As SSDI?
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not the same thing as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSI is a needs-based public assistance program for children and adults. The eligibility criteria include limited income and resources. SSI payments come from the general funds of the U.S. Treasury from tax revenues.
SSDI is an insurance that workers earn by paying into the Social Security through taxes on their work earnings. It is not affected by income or resources. In order to receive SSDI, the person must have worked and paid from their earnings into the Social Security trust funds in the U.S. Treasury.
How Do I Apply For SSI?
Family to Family Health Information Center (F2FHIC), a program of PAVE, provides technical assistance, information, and training to families of children, youth, and adults with special healthcare needs. The F2F website contains invaluable information and resources to help family members, self-advocates, and professionals navigate complex health systems and public benefits, including SSI. After reviewing F2F’s article about how to apply for SSI, if you have questions and would like to speak with an F2F team member, please submit a Help Request.
Special Consideration For Military Families Overseas
A special rule allows dependent children of military families serving on overseas assignments to begin or continue receiving SSI benefits while outside of the United States. The child must be:
- is a U.S. citizen
- living with a parent who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces assigned to permanent duty ashore outside the United States
- listed in the Command sponsorship orders.
If the child is receiving SSI benefits before moving overseas with the active duty service member, the benefits will continue based on the rate of the state in which they applied. If the child is born overseas or becomes eligible for SSI while overseas, you can apply for SSI by contacting the Federal Benefits Unit at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consular Office, or by applying online. For additional support with your application, call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
Once the child turns 18, they will no longer be eligible for SSI until they have been living within the United States for thirty (30) consecutive days and will be subject to the disability redetermination process.
When relocating on military orders overseas, you must report:
- the servicemember’s expected report date to the duty station overseas
- the child’s expected date of arrival at the overseas location
- the mailing address at your new duty station
- changes in military allowances at your new duty station
- Benefits Through Supplemental Security Income (SSI): An explanation of how to apply, what documentation and information to provide, and how to appeal a denial.
- Disability Redetermination: What happens to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) when a child turns 18?
- Expedited Payment Options: Conditions and criteria that may be eligible for fast-track processes
- How to Apply for SSI for Your Child: A 6-step article that walks you through the process of applying for SSI benefits.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Children: What it is, who it is for, and how Parents/Caregivers can help.
- Your Right to Question the Decision Made on Your Claim (SSA Publication No. 05-10058, May 2022, English) Available in Spanish and other languages