Senior Citizens Handbook - Financial Assistance: Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Senior Citizens Handbook - Financial Assistance: Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Last updated: January 2014

(Chapter 1 Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Handbook)

What It Is: A program that provides monthly income for people who are age 65 or older, blind or disabled and who have very low income and assets.

Where To Apply: Apply for SSI through the Social Security Administration. You can apply in person at an SSA office. You can start an application over the phone by calling 800-772-1213. You can complete part of the application online. To complete the rest of the application, you will need to schedule an appointment with your local SSA office.

Who May Be Eligible: Needy U.S. citizens and certain legal immigrants who are blind, disabled or 65 years old or older.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that provides monthly income for financially needy older, disabled, and blind people. In 2014, the maximum SSI benefit for one eligible person is $721 per month and $1082 per month for a couple if both spouses are eligible for SSI. The maximum benefit amounts may be reduced based on household income, living arrangements and other factors. SSI benefits are only paid to eligible persons. There is no additional benefit for a dependant spouse or child.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the SSI program. You may qualify for the program even if you have never worked or have not worked enough to qualify for Social Security.
SSI is different from Social Security benefits. Social Security is an insurance program that provides income to workers who retire or become disabled, and to their dependents and survivors. SSI is a financial aid program for needy people who are elderly, blind or disabled, and who meet specific low-income and asset limits. Both programs use the same definitions and standards for establishing disability, but other eligibility criteria and the way benefits are computed are very different in the two programs.

If you are eligible for SSI, you may also be eligible for other programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP benefits, formerly called Food Stamps), and Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (AABD) which are available from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Who Is Eligible?

You may be eligible to receive SSI if you are 65 years old or older, blind or disabled. Benefits are available only to U.S. citizens and certain legal immigrants. Your income and your resources must be lower than the income and asset limits for the program.


SSA uses a specific definition of disability and a multiple step process for evaluating disability. You must be unable to engage in substantial gainful work activity because of mental and/or physical medical problems that have lasted or are expected to last at least 12 months or end in death. Children who have disabilities may qualify for SSI, and SSA has a special eligibility process for determining their eligibility.

When you apply, you will need to provide SSA information about your medical conditions and treatment, how your medical conditions affect your ability to function, as well as information about your past work and your education. SSA will ask you to complete a “Disability Report” form. It is very important to complete the form providing all the information requested, listing all the medical treatment you have had. Medical evidence is very important in an SSI case. No matter how sick you are, you will need medical evidence of your condition to be awarded SSI. Therefore, it is important to seek and follow up with medical treatment if you are thinking about applying for SSI.

SSA’s disability determination process, for adults or children, can take quite a bit of time. SSA has a presumptive eligibility process for some serious situations. An example would be a person who has suffered a stroke and after three months has a great deal of difficulty walking. Persons who are presumptively eligible can receive up to 6 months of benefits while SSA evaluates their cases and makes a determination on eligibility. SSA has developed a quick determination process for situations like a terminal illness. It has also identified over one hundred types of medical problems, including certain cancers and rare diseases that are so serious that anyone who has the diagnosis would generally meet SSA’s disability criteria. Persons with these conditions should be flagged for the quick determination process. A list of these conditions is on the SSA website.

Apply for SSI as soon as you believe you are eligible. Although it may take SSA many months to decide on your application, you may qualify for benefits for a retroactive period that includes the months you were waiting. Don’t delay, because the date your benefits begin cannot be earlier than the month after you apply.

Income and Asset Limits for SSI

To determine eligibility, SSA considers your income and assets. If you are married, SSA will count some of your spouse’s income and resources in determining whether you are eligible.

Income Limits

To be eligible, your countable income must be less than the SSI benefit amount. Income includes money that you earn from employment and unearned income, like investment income, pensions or alimony. SSA also counts “in-kind” income related to food or shelter, like the value of room and board someone gives you free of charge.

In general, SSA does not count the first $20 per month of any kind of income. It also deducts the first $65 per month you earn from working and half the amount over $65. SSA does not count certain types of income, such as the value of SNAP/food stamps, energy assistance and federally subsidized housing assistance.

Asset Limits

SSA calls assets resources. Resources are things you own like real estate, stocks, bonds, CD’s, savings accounts, checking accounts, and the like. To be eligible, an individual may have no more than $2,000 in countable resources. The resource limit is $3,000 in the case of a married couple where both are eligible for SSI.

SSA does not count some types of resources. Examples of exempt resources include your home, your household goods and personal effects (to the extent that their equity value is less than $2,000), and your car, if it is used for your transportation or for a member of your household.

How Working Affects SSI

If you start to work after you get SSI, your benefits will not necessarily stop. There are some work incentives that may allow you to continue to receive SSI benefits, depending on how much you earn and whether you continue to be disabled. You may be able to receive SSI until the amount of your countable income is greater than the amount of your SSI benefit.

If you lose your job or your wages are reduced, SSA can increase your SSI because of your reduced income. If SSA stops your SSI payments because of your earnings and you then lose your job or your wages are reduced, you can ask SSA to start your SSI benefits without the need for a new application if it has been less than 60 months since you received your last SSI check. If it has been more than 60 months since your SSI stopped, you will need to file a new application for SSI and you may need to prove that you still meet the disability criteria. You may also be able to set aside some money for a work goal or to go to school.

Advocacy Tip
Be sure to let SSA know if you start a job, leave a job and about any changes in your monthly income, assets, or living situation. Changes can affect the amount of your benefit, and reporting right away will help you avoid any overpayment problems with SSA. Keep a record of any change that you report so that you can show that you made a timely report even if SSA later claims it never received it.

If SSA Says You Received an Overpayment

See information about overpayments here.

If SSA Denies You SSI, or Reduces or Terminates Your Benefits

You can appeal any decision that SSA makes affecting your benefits which you believe may be wrong. This includes decisions to deny benefits or to reduce or terminate benefits. See information about appeals in the section of this Chapter titled "Social Security."

Where to Go for More Information

Statutes and Regulations

• The federal statute relating to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program can be found at 42 USC § 1381.
• The federal regulations for that program can be found at 20 CFR Part 416.

Agencies and Organizations

To apply for benefits or to file an appeal, contact your local Social Security office, or call 800-772-1213 (toll free) or 800-325-0778 (TTY) nationwide for information and assistance.
You can also visit the Social Security Administration website.

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