Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a safety-net benefit that the Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees for older, disabled and blind people with very low incomes and limited assets. Because eligibility depends on financial need, Social Security periodically reviews SSI recipients’ economic and living circumstances to determine if they still qualify for benefits and are receiving the correct amount.
This procedure, called a redetermination, is distinct from a disability review, Social Security’s process for checking that someone getting benefits on the basis of a serious illness or injury still meets the medical qualifications. Redetermination is concerned only with nonmedical aspects of SSI eligibility, specifically a beneficiary’s income, resources and living arrangements.
What happens in a redetermination?
You’ll be asked to provide information, via an interview with an SSA representative or by filling out a form, about changes in your life related to those three eligibility factors. Here’s why.
To receive SSI, your income that Social Security considers “countable” cannot exceed the maximum federal benefit payment for the program, which the SSA sets and is adjusted annually for inflation. Countable income can include both earnings from work and money from other sources such as investment returns and government benefits.
In 2022, the maximum benefit is $841 a month for an individual and $1,261 for a married couple who are both eligible for SSI. If your countable income is below that level, you can get SSI, but your payments might be reduced. Social Security doesn’t count every dollar you bring in — for example, a portion of work income is excluded from the equation — but what it does count can be subtracted from your monthly SSI benefit.
You cannot receive SSI if you have financial resources such as savings and investments that are collectively worth more than $2,000, $3,000 for an eligible married couple. Among other things, resources include bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance and property other than your primary residence. As with income, the SSA exempts some assets from the count.
Where you live and with whom can affect your SSI status. For example, Social Security may reduce your benefit if you live with someone other than a spouse (or, in the case of a child beneficiary, a parent) and pay less than an equal share of food and housing costs, or if you move into a nursing home or medical facility where Medicaid covers more than half your costs.
When you apply for SSI, Social Security factors all this into its initial ruling on whether you qualify and how much you should get each month. By the same token, it weighs subsequent changes in these circumstances in redetermining your continuing eligibility.
You’ll be asked about things like recent or anticipated earnings, how much you have in bank accounts or cash at home, whether anyone has moved into or out of your household, and whether anyone is giving you money or helping pay your bills. You may need to refer to or provide financial records, including:
What does redetermination mean for SSI benefits?
Redetermination measures changes in your finances or living situation since Social Security last assessed your SSI eligibility — that is, since your initial application or previous redetermination. If you have no changes, or at least none that would alter your benefit status, your payment continues as is.
If you have had material changes in your life, the SSA could raise or lower your benefit or revoke your eligibility outright. The resulting effect on SSI status can be retroactive, depending on when the event that triggered it occurred.
For example, say that while receiving SSI, you move in with a sibling who pays for your food and shelter. Three months later, you have a redetermination and Social Security lowers your benefit based on your different living arrangement. Along with reducing your payment going forward, the SSA may conclude you’ve been getting more in SSI than you were entitled to and seek repayment of some or all of your benefits for those three months or longer.
How often is SSI eligibility reviewed?
Redeterminations are done by SSA field office personnel and typically scheduled every one to six years. The frequency depends on how likely it is, in Social Security's view, that your situation will change in a way that affects your benefits. For example, someone performing work that the SSA considers “substantial gainful activity” will undergo redetermination annually.
Social Security also may conduct a redetermination when a beneficiary reports a life event that could affect SSI eligibility or payments, such as a change in income, marital status or household composition. Childhood SSI recipients undergo the process at age 18 to determine if they qualify for adult disability benefits.
When it’s your turn, Social Security will notify you by mail. You’ll receive a redetermination form to fill out or a letter proposing a scheduled date and time for an interview by phone or at a local SSA office. Local offices fully reopened April 7 after being closed to most in-person services for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
You have 30 days to respond by returning the completed questionnaire, confirming the scheduled appointment or requesting a different interview date. Failing to reply within 30 days could result in your benefits being stopped. If you were enrolled in Medicaid because you collected SSI, as is the case in many states, you could lose that coverage as well.
Keep in mind
- Life changes that could affect your SSI benefits should be reported to Social Security no more than 10 days after the end of the month in which they occurred.
- A redetermination might include questions about a spouse’s income and assets as well as your own. Social Security can consider your spouse’s finances in determining your SSI eligibility and payment, a process known as “deeming.”
- Social Security may contact financial institutions you do business with to verify the information you provide in a redetermination. You must give them permission to do so as a condition for receiving SSI.
- If a representative payee manages your benefits, the SSA will contact that person to schedule a redetermination interview or fill out the relevant forms.
Updated April 8, 2022