SSI BENEFITS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHAT ARE SSI BENEFITS?
SSI benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues. SSI benefits do not come from Social Security taxes. The goal of the SSI program is to provide a monthly payment that helps disabled people, those who are blind, and who also have little or no income.
In 2022, the highest federal SSI payment is $841 a month for one person and $1,261 a month for a couple. However, in order to receive SSI payments you must first be found disabled by the SSA. Second, you must also meet SSA’s income and asset rules.
SSI benefits come with a set of complex income and asset rules that most people don’t understand. Or, at least, they have never heard of them. Every day people call our office asking about SSI. For example, this is a common question: “My spouse has cancer, but the Social Security Administration says because I make too much money, she can’t get SSI benefits. How can I fix this?”
Here is another common question: “I am already on SSI benefits, but it is not enough money. I need more money than this. Can you get me more SSI money every month?”
This article will attempt to give you a basic understanding of SSI benefits.
CAN YOU WORK AND GET SSI BENEFITS?
To receive SSI payments, your medical condition must be serious enough to prevent you from working for 12 months or longer. Or, you medical condition must be expected to result in death. SSA defines work as not being able to to perform “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. You can learn more information about SGA by reading here.
For 2022, the SGA level is defined as earning $1,350 a month from a job. This means that if you earn under $1,350 a month in gross pay, you are not “working.” For people who are blind, the SGA amount is higher. For example, in 2022 the SGA amount for those who are blind is $2260 per month. However, the amount of money the SSA counts as earnings is not the amount of your take home pay. Instead, it is your gross pay, before taxes.
If you are working above the SGA level when you apply for SSD or SSI benefits, then you are working. The first question the SSA asks when they are looking at paying you benefits is, are you working. If you are, then you cannot get either benefit.
WHAT ARE THE MEDICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR SSI BENEFITS?
The medical rules to win SSI benefits are the same as those for SSD benefits. In order for the SSA to pay you SSI benefits, then your medical condition must meet or equal their rules. If your condition does not meet or equal a listing, then there is another way to win benefits. For example, your residual functional capacity can prevent you from working full time hours at any job. To learn more information about how to win benefits with your residual functional capacity, read here.
To understand the physical conditions that meet or equal a listing, you can read the list of disabling conditions on SSA’s website. Or, you can read the list of physical conditions that are on this website.
Additionally, you can win SSI benefits if you have one or more mental conditions. There is also a list of mental conditions that qualify you for SSI benefits on this website.
Obviously, many people have a combination of both mental and physical conditions. The bottom line is this, whatever physical or mental condition you have, it must prevent you from working. SSI benefits are for those who are not able to work at any job in the national economy. When you win SSI benefits, you also receive Medicaid benefits. Medicaid is a form of health insurance. Learn more information about Medicaid benefits here.
WHAT ARE THE FINANCIAL LIMITS FOR SSI BENEFITS?
In addition to being found disabled, in order to win SSI benefits, you must also meet Social Security’s income and resource rules.
THE INCOME TEST.
In order to qualify for SSI benefits your countable income cannot exceed the federal benefit rate (FBR). As of January 1, 2022, the FBR is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple. Some States give additional payments on top of the Federal SSI benefit.
Your countable income includes money you are paid for working, the value of free food or shelter, and money from other sources such as your spouse and family. Additionally, your countable income includes veterans benefits and unemployment benefits. However, only a portion of your spouse’s income is attributed to you by the SSA.
There are also some types of income that the SSA doesn’t consider when figuring out your countable income. Here are some examples:
- the first $20 of most types of income you get in a month
- income tax refunds
- home energy assistance
- loans you have to repay, and
- grants, scholarships, or gifts of money used to pay for your education.
THE RESOURCES TEST.
Individuals who receive SSI benefits cannot have more than $2,000 in resources. Couples cannot have more than $3,000 in combined resources (even if just one person is disabled). Resources are things you own. For example, cash or savings in the bank are resources. Likewise, so are investments, land, automobiles, motorcycles, or any other items you could sell to help pay for your food and shelter. There are some things, however, that the SSA will not consider when calculating your income. Here are some examples of resources that do not count against your income:
- your family home and the land it is on
- one vehicle (if it is used by you or your family for transportation)
- personal items (like your wedding ring and clothing)
- household goods (such as furniture)
- burial plots
- an IRA or pension plan of a spouse who is not disabled, and
- life insurance valued at less than $1,500.
ARE SSI BENEFITS AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER WORKED?
SSI benefits are available to people who have never had a job. They are also available for:
- applicants who haven’t worked enough quarters to qualify for SSDI
- people who once worked and were on SSDI but no longer qualify because they haven’t worked in a long time, and
- children from low income families who have few assets.
SSI benefits are limited to those with little income and few assets. So, even if you have never worked, it is still possible for you to apply and get SSI benefits.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SSDI AND SSI BENEFITS
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits are different than Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits. SSI benefits are a “supplement” to SSDI benefits. The SSA can pay you SSI if your monthly SSD benefit is a low amount of money. However, you must also qualify by not having extra assets that can be turned into cash to pay your bills. For example, you cannot have a cabin, a boat, or money (more than $2000 saved in the bank).
SSDI benefits are not based upon your assets. You must be found unable to work at any job due to a severe physical or mental condition. And, you must also have paid into the Social Security program by paying your taxes and working. If you have done that, then the SSA will pay you SSDI benefits. Unlike SSI, you can have any amount of money saved in the bank and own any assets. That does not affect your ability to receive SSDI payments. Find out more about SSDI payments here.
HOW TO APPLY FOR SSI BENEFITS
You can file your application for SSI disability benefits online, no matter where you live. If you prefer not to file an application online, then you can call and begin an application with the SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778). There, you can speak with a Social Security claims worker. Likewise, you can make an appointment to apply in person at your local Social Security office.
The SSA will issue your first SSI payment for the first full month after you applied for SSI benefits and are found disabled. However, your SSI benefits may not be the same amount every month. Your SSI amount depends on your other income and living arrangements. If those change, so does the amount of your SSI payment.
The SSA bases the first, second, and third monthly SSI amounts on your first month’s income. After that, they usually base your SSI payment amount on your income from two months before. For example, a woman living in Nevada gets a $600 SSDI payment and a $241 SSI payment. In June, she buys a lottery scratch card, wins $200, and reports that money to the Social Security office. That means in August, the SSA reduce her SSI payment to $110. In this example, her SSI payment will return to $241 in September.
Your SSI payment may increase each year to keep up with the cost of living. These increases usually start with your January payment, which you should receive at the end of December each year.
ELECTRONIC SSI PAYMENTS.
At the same time that you file an application for SSI, you should sign up to receive your payments sent to you electronically.
Direct deposit is a safe and secure way to receive your SSI benefits. Sign up for direct deposit by contacting your bank for help, or by contacting the Social Security Administration.
Another option is the Direct Express® card program. With Direct Express®, deposits from federal payments are made directly to the card account. Signing up for the card is quick and easy. Call the Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Contact Center at 1-800-333-1795. Or, sign up online at www.GoDirect.org. Social Security can also help you sign up.
If you don’t receive your electronic payment on its due date, call the SSA immediately at their toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.
If you receive an electronic payment that you know isn’t due to you, have your bank return it to the U.S. Treasury Department.
RETURNING SSI PAYMENTS THAT ARE NOT CORRECT
Most of the time, your SSI payment will be for the correct amount. However, if you receive more money than usual, you should call your local Social Security office. The local office will explain whether or not the money is actually due to you and correct. If it is not correct, then they can tell you how you can return it.
You must return any extra money you aren’t supposed to get. This is true even if it is not your fault that you got the money. Many people assume that SSA does not make mistakes and so the money belongs to them. If you know that it is not your money, then you are responsible to return it to the SSA.
COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENTS
Each January, your payments will increase automatically if the cost of living has gone up. For example, if the cost of living has increased by 2 percent, your benefits will also increase by 2 percent. The SSA usually sends a letter that to notify you in advance of your new monthly SSI amount.
DOES THE SSA REVIEW SSI CASES?
The SSA looks at every SSI case from time to time to make sure that people getting payments should still get them. They also check to make sure that you are getting the right amount. The SSA will inform you when it is time for a review of your case. Your review can take place by mail, phone, or in person at a Social Security office.
When they do a review of your SSI benefits, the SSA will ask you the same kind of questions you answered when you applied for benefits.
The SSA will need information about your income and your resources. Likewise, they will also need to know about your living arrangements and your bank accounts. You should keep a copy of the savings or checking account statements you get from your bank. At a minimum, you should be able to access those bank statements online. You will need them when the SSA reviews your case. Also, keep a copy of your pay slips if you or your spouse works. Don’t wait for an SSA review to then find all of this information. Keep it in an organized file.
Additionally, do not forget to tell the SSA about any changes win your income or living arrangements. For example, let’s say your spouse gets a new job and makes more money. That is a perfect example of something you should report to the SSA. You should report a change as soon as it happens.
DO NOT GIVE FALSE INFORMATION TO THE SSA
When you sign your application for SSI benefits, you state the information on the application is true. If your information changes, you must notify the SSA. The amount of your monthly SSI payment is based upon your statements to the SSA.
If you fail to report changes or if you give the SSA false information, you can get a penalty or sanction. If you’re penalized, it means you didn’t report a change to the SSA on time. With a penalty, you can lose additional money from your check. This amount is from $25 up to $100. If you are sanctioned, that means you gave the SSA false information or withheld important information. If the SSA discovers you gave false information or withheld information on purpose, then they can stop your payments from six to 24 months.
The kinds of things you must report to us are listed below. You must report if you:
- move or change your address
- change direct deposit accounts
- someone moves into or out of your household
- start or stop work
- there is a change in your income or the income of family members
- have a change in your resources
- enter or leave an institution (hospital, nursing home or prison)
- get married, separated, or divorced
- change your name
- become a parent
- you reach age 18 to 22 and start or stop attending school
- leave the United States
- you are a sponsored noncitizen
- have an outstanding felony or arrest warrant
- you become confined to a correctional facility
- you are not able to manage funds
- your immigration status changes
- if the person getting SSI dies
SSI BENEFITS AND CHANGES IN INCOME
If there is a change in your income or the income of family members, then you must report it to the SSA. For example, you need to tell the SSA if the amount of your other income increases, decreases, or if the income stops. Usually, changes in your monthly income will affect your SSI payment two months later. You should report a change as soon as it happens. Likewise, you should report wages each month.
You should also tell the SSA about changes in the income of other family members who live with you. For example:
- You work and receive SSI, or if you are the spouse, parent, or sponsor of a person getting SSI, then you need to report your wages monthly to receive correct and timely payments.
- If you are married, tell the SSA about any change in your spouse’s income, including any change in the amount of his or her Social Security benefits.
- You have a child younger than 18 who gets SSI and lives with you, then tell the SSA about any change in the child’s income, your spouse’s income, and also any income of any child in your home who is not getting SSI.
- A child in your home who is not getting SSI gets married; or
- Your child who is working, or who is age 18 to 22, starts or stops attending school full time.
WHAT COUNTS AS INCOME FOR PURPOSES OF SSI BENEFITS?
For purposes of SSI benefits, income includes cash, checks, and other things you get that can be used for food or shelter. Examples of income include:
- Wages from your job, whether in cash or another form
- Net earnings from your business if you are self employed
- The value of food or shelter that someone gives you or money that they give you for these items
- Department of Veterans Affairs benefits
- Railroad retirement and railroad unemployment benefits
- Pensions from any government or private source
- Workers’ compensation, Unemployment Insurance benefits, Black Lung benefits and Social Security benefits
- Prizes and awards, including court awards
- Proceeds of life insurance policies
- Gifts and contributions
- Support and alimony payments
- Inheritances in cash or property
- Rental income
- Strike pay and other benefits from unions
WHAT DOES NOT COUNT AS INCOME FOR PURPOSES OF SSI BENEFITS?
Examples of items that do not count as income include:
- Medical care and services
- Social services
- Money from the sale or exchange of things you own (though the money may count as a resource if you retain it until the next month)
- Most types of interest and dividend income
- Income tax refunds
- Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit payments
- Payments made by life or disability insurance on charge accounts or other credit accounts
- Proceeds of a loan
- Bills paid by someone else for things other than food or shelter
- Settlement payments to eligible American Indian landowners whose assets had been mismanaged by the United States
- Replacement of lost or stolen income
- Help you get to weatherize your home
Some things the SSA normally counts as “income” won’t reduce your SSI payment. For example, under certain conditions, home energy assistance provided by home energy companies does not count as income. Food, shelter, or home energy assistance provided free, or at a reduced rate, by private nonprofit organizations also is not counted as income. Even though these items may not count, you should still tell the SSA about them.
REPORT ALL EARNED INCOME TO THE SSA
If you receive SSI benefits, then you should report all earned income to the SSA. The SSA will need to verify your wages or self employment income. Keep all your pay stubs or slips. This includes pay slips for overtime, vacations, or bonuses. You must report changes in work activity each month after you receive your final payment for the month. In addition to reporting your income, you must also tell the SSA when:
- Your work starts or stops
- The hours your work or your rate of pay changes
- You start paying for expenses that you need for work due to your disability.
There are several ways to report your wages to the SSA:
- To report wages online you must have a my Social Security account. You may also report wages through the toll free SSI Telephone Wage Reporting Service or the free SSI Mobile Wage Reporting Smartphone app. When you use these options, the SSA prefers you report your wages by the 6th of each month. Please contact your local Social Security office to determine if these options will work for you and to receive instructions on how to report wages using these methods.
- Mail, fax, or bring your pay slips to your local Social Security office each month as soon as you receive them, but no later than the 10th day of the next month. If you’re self employed, notify the SSA of that fact.
You can get more information by calling the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or if you’re deaf or hard of hearing, call the TTY number at 1-800-325-0778. You can find your local Social Security office on their website.
RESOURCES THAT COUNT AND THOSE THAT DO NOT COUNT
If there is a change in your resources, you need to inform the SSA. A single person can have resources worth up to $2,000 and still get SSI benefits. A couple can have resources worth up to $3,000.
RESOURCES THE SSA DOES NOT COUNT
The SSA does not count many of the things you own. Your home and the land that it is on do not count if it’s your primary residence. Depending on how you use them, household goods, personal property, and a car may not count as resources. Life insurance with a face value of $1,500 or less per person usually does not count. Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse don’t count. Burial plots for you and your immediate family also don’t count.
RESOURCES THE SSA DOES COUNT
The SSA does count certain resources. For example, here are some of the things they do count:
- Your checking and savings accounts
- Christmas club accounts
- Certificates of deposit
- Stocks and U.S. Savings Bonds
If you are single, then tell the SSA if your resources are more than $2,000. If you’re living with your spouse, tell the SSA if the combination of your resources are more than $3,000.
Or, if you have a child who gets SSI, then you should tell the SSA about changes in the things the child owns and the things you and your spouse own.
Likewise, if you agreed to sell property so you can get SSI, then you should tell the SSA when you sell it. If you don’t sell the property, you may not be able to get any more SSI payments, and you may have to return any payments they already sent to you.
Similarly, if your name is on any bank account with another person, then you must tell the SSA about the account. This is true even if you don’t consider the money to be yours. You must tell us about the account, even if you don’t use the money or account. For example, if someone wants to add your name to an account, check with the SSA first. If the money isn’t really yours, or if it is for a special purpose like your medical costs, the SSA can tell you how to set up the account so it won’t affect the amount of your monthly SSI benefits.
If you (or your spouse) buy, sell, or become the owner of any real estate, a car, or personal property, then tell the SSA.
WHAT HAPPENS TO SSI BENEFITS IF YOU LIVE IN AN INSTITUTION?
One of the things that may happen is that your SSI benefits may change because of your living arrangements. For example, there are different rules for SSI benefits if you are in a nursing home, a prison, or if you are living in your own home. You must inform the SSA if your living arrangements change. For example, below you will find a list that shows you when you need to inform the SSA about your living circumstances:
You must tell the SSA if you enter or leave an institution, hospital, skilled nursing facility, nursing home, or intermediate care facility. Additionally, you must inform the SSA if you enter or leave a halfway house, jail, prison, public emergency shelter, or any other kind of institution. Let the SSA know the name of the institution and the date you entered or left. If you are not able to tell the SSA yourself, ask someone at the institution to help you.
Usually, you cannot get SSI while you are in a public institution. If you enter a medical institution, it is especially important to tell the SSA right away. There are special rules if you enter a medical institution for a stay of less than 90 days. Often, you can keep getting your SSI, if the SSA learns about it quickly. Your doctor must sign a statement about how long your stay will be. And, you must sign a statement that you still need to pay expenses for your home while you are in the institution. Those statements must be sent quickly. Do not send them later than the 90th day you are in the institution or the day you leave, if that is earlier.
OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO TELL THE SSA IF YOU ARE ON SSI BENEFITS
- If you change your name
- You change your name — by marriage, divorce, or court order. If you don’t give them this information, your benefits will be issued under your old name and, if you have direct deposit, your payments may not reach your account. If you receive checks, then you may not be able to cash them if your ID is different from the name on your check
- If you become a parent
- You become the parent of a child (including an adopted child) after you begin getting SSI payments
- If you leave the United States
- Leaving the United States means leaving the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands. Usually, if you leave the US for 30 days or more, you can no longer get SSI
- If you move to Puerto Rico, you are considered to be outside the US for SSI purposes only. People who live in Puerto Rico cannot get SSI payments.
- After you have been outside the United States for 30 or more days in a row, your SSI can’t start again until you have been back in the country for at least 30 straight days.
- There are special rules for children of military personnel who leave the United States. They may be able to get or apply for SSI while overseas. There are also exceptions for students studying abroad.
REPORT OUTSTANDING FELONY OR ARREST WARRANT STATUS
Tell the SSA if you have an outstanding felony or arrest warrant for any of the following offenses:
- Flight to avoid prosecution or confinement
- Escape from custody
- Flight escape.
You cannot receive a monthly payment for any month in which there is an outstanding felony or arrest warrant for any of these offenses. You cannot receive any underpayment you may be due if you currently have an outstanding felony or arrest warrant for any of
Tell the SSA right away if you are in jail or in a correctional facility. You cannot receive a monthly SSI payment if you are confined to a correctional facility for a full month. You cannot receive any underpayment that you may be due if you are confined to a correctional facility for a full month.
IMMIGRANT AND NONCITIZEN STATUS
If you a sponsored noncitizen or if you are an immigrant who is sponsored by a U.S. resident, then the SSA will look at the income and resources of the following people in deciding whether you can get SSI and how much your payment will be:
- Yourself (including anything you still have in your homeland)
- Your spouse
- Your parents if you are under age 18
- Your sponsor and
- Your sponsor’s spouse
You must report any changes in the income and resources of all the above people until you become a U.S. citizen or until you work for 10 years. Work done by your spouse or parent may count toward the 10 years for SSI. After that time, you have to report only changes for yourself, your spouse and, if you are younger than age 18, your parents.
Let the SSA know if your immigration status changes. Your status may affect whether you can get SSI. In general, if you become a U.S. citizen, you still can get SSI as long as you meet the other SSI rules.
WHAT WE DO TO HELP YOU WIN SSI BENEFITS
You do not need to try to win SSI benefits by yourself. Cannon Disability Law can help file your disability application. Also, we can help you appeal every SSA denial. That way, you can focus on your health. For example, our attorneys and staff can:
- Send you the paperwork you need to become our client
- Help you file your application for SSD and SSI benefits
- Inform the SSA that they should automatically pay your benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Rules
- Request reconsideration if you receive an initial denial from Disability Determination Services
- Help you confirm your attendance at a Consultative Examination
- Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Prepare you to be a good witness at your SSA hearing
- Represent you at your hearing and question the vocational and medical witnesses.
- Read more about vocational experts here
- Learn more about medical expert testimony here
- Request review of an unfavorable decision with the Appeals Council
- Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court
If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign the summary and mail it back. Send it in quickly.
Additionally, once you receive a denial, you have 60 days to file an appeal. You must also meet the time limit set by the SSA. If you do not, then you will have to start the process over again. That means you will lose any benefits you could receive on any prior application.
IF YOU NEED HELP WITH YOUR SSI CLAIM REACH OUT TO US
If you need help filing for SSI benefits, reach out to Cannon Disability Law. Also, if you need help finding free medical care, use the list of free and low-cost medical resources on our website. Taking the first step, by calling us, is what you need to do to begin your journey to winning benefits. All you need to do is reach out to our legal team.
Our legal team wants to help you. We offer a free review of your case. What that means is that you can call us and explain your situation. At that point, we will look at the merits of your case for free and let you know if you have a chance to qualify for SSI benefits. We do not charge you for our review of your case.
There are many reasons to hire an SSD and SSI attorney. But the first reason is it pays to hire an attorney with experience. Our legal team has the experience you need to win your case.
In the past 30 years, we have won over $100 million in SSD and SSI benefits for our clients. If you need our help, then call us. We are experts at what we do and we will put our knowledge to work for you. Hire us to be your Social Security legal team.