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Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on employment history, SSI is based on financial need. You must meet strict income and resource limits to qualify for assistance. In addition to meeting the income and resource limits, you must either be 65 or older or you must be blind or disabled. You must be a U.S. citizen or a U.S. national, and you must live in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands to receive SSI benefits. There are some circumstances in which a noncitizen may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits under SSI. The amount of your monthly Social Security disability benefit is determined in relation to your assets and your income. If you qualify for SSI, you automatically qualify for immediate Medicare benefits as well. SSI benefits are the same across the country, but some states supplement the basic benefit.

What counts as Income?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) counts wages, pensions, food and shelter as income. Income limits vary from state to state. Although you can receive benefits from both SSDI and SSI at the same time, the benefits you receive under SSDI will count against your income limits. Some of your income is not counted, such as the first $20 of income you receive each month, the first $65 you earn, and half the amount you earn over $65. Food stamps are not counted and neither is shelter you receive from a nonprofit organization. Home energy assistance is also not generally counted as income. The SSA will count part of your spouse’s income and resources when determining your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. If you are not a citizen, all of your spouse’s income and resources are counted against your income limit. If you are not yet 18 years of age, part of your parents’ income and resources count against your income limit. Some wages and scholarships received by a student are excluded from the income limit.

What counts as a Resource?

Resources are basically anything you own, such as real estate, money in the bank, or securities. To qualify for Social Security disability benefits under SSI, you can own no more than $2,000 worth of resources if you are single, or $3,000 if you are married.

However, Social Security excludes some property from your resource limit, including the home where you live and the real estate it sits on, life insurance polices with a face value of $1,500 or less, your car, burial plots for you and your immediate family, and burial funds of up to $1,500.

There are other qualifying rules and exceptions that apply to eligibility for Social Security disability benefits, but those discussed here are the most common.

Blind or disabled SSI recipients may be able to continue working while receiving Social Security disability benefits from SSI. SSI payments are adjusted depending on the amount of money you make, but you may be able to keep your Medicaid coverage. It is also possible to save money for a work or education goal. Money set aside for those purposes is not counted against your income and resource limit. In addition, there are free special services available to the blind and disabled, including work counseling, job training, and employment assistance. Other exclusions for disabled persons include assistive or adaptive devices that help you work, such as a wheelchair, and some of the income you use for job training or to buy things you need for work. The wages of a blind person used for work, such as transportation expenses, are not counted.