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What is Supplemental Security Income and how does it work?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a benefit program managed by the Social Security Administration that provides monthly payments to people facing significant financial and physical challenges. About 8.1 million people were receiving SSI benefits as of December 2019.

While Social Security administers SSI, it does not pay for it. Unlike general Social Security benefits, which are financed largely from the Social Security taxes most working people pay, SSI payments primarily come out of U.S. Treasury general revenues. Most states supplement these federal benefits with payments of their own.

To qualify for SSI, you must be disabled, blind or at least 65 years old and have very limited financial resources. In 2020, the maximum monthly benefit available from federal funds is $783 a month for an individual and $1,175 for a couple who file for the program jointly. Social Security subtracts what it considers “countable income” from the benefit, so if your countable income exceeds the figures above, you can't receive SSI.

Social Security has a complex formula for determining what income factors into SSI eligibility. For example, money that you earn from work counts, but not all of it. Pensions and regular Social Security benefits are countable. Some government aid, such as food stamps and home energy assistance, is not, nor are income tax refunds.

Another eligibility test is your financial assets, which cannot exceed $2,000 in value for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Some major possessions, such as your home and your car, do not count against that cap. But Social Security will count bank accounts, bonds, cash, stocks, and real estate that's not your primary residence, among other things.

You'll find more information in the articles on SSI eligibility and applying for SSI at AARP's Social Security Resource Center.

Keep in mind

  • SSI benefits are closely tied to your living situation and personal or family finances. Recipients must keep Social Security informed of any changes in those circumstances, from a new job or pay increase to a relative moving in and contributing to household expenses.
  • Blind or disabled children may qualify for SSI, depending on their condition and the family's financial situation.
  • SSI is distinct from Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. Eligibility for SSDI is determined by your condition and how long you worked and paid Social Security taxes. It is possible to receive benefits from both programs.

Published February 24, 2020

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