SSI is short for “Supplemental Security Income.” Supplemental Security Income benefits are paid by the federal government to specific individuals. These individuals include aged 65 or over, as well as blind individuals and those who are disabled. Persons in each of these categories must have limited income and assets to qualify for Supplemental Security Income.

SSI disability payments are reserved specifically for individuals who are disabled, and who also have limited assets and income. Individuals who have worked for a period of time sufficient to qualify for social security retirement payments, are not eligible for SSI disability payments. SSI disability payments are different from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits payments.

To be eligible for SSDI payments, an individual must be disabled, and must have worked for a sufficient length of time and paid social security taxes. In contrast, individuals who receive SSI disability payments have not worked long enough to qualify for SSDI. In some cases, individuals who have never worked may be eligible for SSI disability.

How is SSI Disability Support Determined?

To qualify for supplemental security income Disability payments, an individual must meet specific basic requirements. These include:

  • The individual must meet the Social Security Administration definition of disabled.
  • The individual must have limited income and resources.
  • The individual must be a citizen, a U.S. national, or eligible non citizen.
  • The individual must reside in the U.S. or the Northern Mariana Islands

The monthly SSI disability benefit amount is determined by the amount of assets and income that you have. The Social Security Administration has rules defining what counts as income.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines “income “ as anything an individual receives in the form of cash. Income also includes something “in-kind” that can be used to meet the basic needs of shelter and food. An in-kind payment is a good or service someone uses as payment for something, in lieu of cash.

The following types of income qualify as income for SSI Disability purposes:

  • Wages;
  • Earnings from self-employment; and
  • Sheltered workshop payments. Sheltered workshops are non-profit institutions that give work opportunities to individuals with developmental, physical, or mental impairments. The goal of providing the work is to prepare these individuals for gainful work in the economy-at-large. Sheltered work generally consists of basic, repetitive tasks, supported by instruction on life skills, personal hygiene, and/or physical rehabilitation.

In certain instances, deemed income counts as income for purposes of SSI disability benefits calculation. If, for example, an SSI disability benefits-eligible person has a spouse who is not eligible, part of the spouse’s income may be counted in determining the SSDI disability benefit amount. If a child is eligible for SSI disability benefits, and at least one of the child’s parents does not receive these benefits, SSA may count a portion of the parents’ income in determining the child’s benefit amount.

Certain income does not count as income for purposes of SSI disability benefit determination. This income includes (among other things):

  • The value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps) received;
  • Income tax refunds;
  • Home energy assistance
  • Loans to the individual seeking benefits, that the individual must repay.

To determine the amount of the SSI disability benefit, SSA calculates an individual’s gross income. Gross income is money from all sources. SSA then subtracts, from gross income, all income it does not “count,” like income tax refunds and home energy assistance. The resulting figure is known as countable income. Finally, SSI subtracts the countable income from the SSI disability federal rate. The resulting figure is the amount of SSI disability payments someone will receive..

As of 2021, the maximum monthly amount an SSI disability recipient can receive is $794 per month. If a person who is eligible has an eligible spouse, the figure is $1,191 per month. Essential persons are also entitled to a monthly benefit. Under SSI, an essential person is an individual living with an SSI disability beneficiary, who provides essential care to that beneficiary.

Examples of essential persons include children who act as caregivers for their parents, and caretakers who reside at the beneficiary’s home. In 2021, the maximum essential person monthly benefit payment is $397.

Is SSI the Same as Social Security Disability?

SSI disability benefits are not the same thing as social security disability benefits. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays benefits to individuals and family members when the individual has worked for a sufficient length of time, and has paid social security taxes on that income. If and when that person becomes disabled, the person will then receive benefits. The amount of SSDI benefits is calculated based on the amount of income the beneficiary paid social security taxes on.

In contrast, SSI disability payments are “need-based.” This means that to qualify, an individual must demonstrate a financial need. An individual qualifies by showing they have limited income and resources. Generally, to be eligible for SSI disability payments, a disabled individual may not have countable resources that exceed $2,000. A couple may not have countable resources that exceed $3,000. Countable resources are those things owned by an individual that have a cash value.

The determination of what constitutes a disability is the same for SSDI as it is for SSI disability.

Can I Appeal a Denial of SSI Disability Benefits?

Individuals who apply for and are denied SSI disability benefits may appeal the denial. The appeal must be made within 60 days after the individual receives notice of the denial. The appeal process consists of four stages:

  • Reconsideration,
  • Hearing by an administrative law judge.
  • Review by the Appeals Council
  • Federal Court review.

An individual may initially request reconsideration of the denial. When SSA receives the request, SSA assigns someone who did not play a part in the denial, to review the denial. When the review is complete, SSA sends the individual a letter containing the results of the review, and an explanation of the decision.

An individual who disagrees with the reconsideration may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ must review your appeal. As part of the hearing, the ALJ reviews all evidence to date. At the hearing, the individual may call witnesses. Witnesses must be prepared to offer testimony that is relevant to the individual’s claimed disability, or to the claimed income. The judge may question these witnesses.

One of the unique features of an SSI disability ALJ hearing is that the hearing is not adversarial. This means that at the hearing, there is no lawyer or other SSA representative who appears to argue SSA’s position. When the hearing has concluded, the ALJ will make an independent decision based on all available evidence, including the claimant’s and witnesses’ testimony.

If an individual is dissatisfied with the ALJ’s decision, the individual may request review by the Appeals Council. Review by the Appeals Council is discretionary. The Appeals Council may dismiss, deny, or grant a review request.

If a request is granted, the Council will either decide the case on its own, or remand the case (send it back) to the ALJ for a new decision with specific instructions. If the appeals council dismisses or denies a request, or chooses to uphold the ALJ’s initial or subsequent decision, a claimant may then go to federal court to sue the SSA. The federal court then performs judicial review of SSA’s final decision.

If the Appeals Council grants the request for review, it will either decide the case or return (“remand”) it to an administrative law judge for a new decision.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with SSI Benefits?

If you believe you are entitled to SSI disability payments, you should contact a government attorney. An experienced government attorney near you can review the facts of your matter, advise you on how to proceed, and can represent you at any hearings before the Social Security Administration, or in court.