Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility Requirements and How to Apply

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  • The SSI program (Supplemental Security Income) provides monthly payments to Americans who meet certain criteria. Learn more about the eligibility and application requirements.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees several programs designed to ensure older adults and people with disabilities can pay for basic necessities. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is one of those programs.

Keep reading to learn more about the SSI eligibility and application requirements.

SSI Benefits

Older adults who qualify for this program receive a monthly SSI payment that can be used to pay for food, shelter and other living expenses. Payment amounts typically increase each year due to increases in the overall cost of living.

For example, the SSA approved a payment increase of 1.6% for 2020. Individuals receive a maximum monthly payment of $783, while recipients with eligible spouses receive $1,175 per month.

The SSA also provides extra benefits to recipients who live with someone classified as an "essential person." An essential person is someone who has lived with the SSI recipient continuously since 1973, has never been eligible for SSI and hasn't been eligible for state assistance since 1973.

The maximum payment amount for an essential person is $392 for 2020.

SSI Eligibility Requirements

Like other forms of government assistance, the SSI program has strict eligibility requirements.

SSI recipients must be blind, disabled or at least 65 years old. They must also be U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals; in certain cases, Social Security benefits are available to qualified aliens.

Recipients must also meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Reside in one of the 50 U.S. states, the Northern Mariana Islands or the District of Columbia
  • Spend no more than 30 consecutive days or one full calendar month outside the United States
  • Doesn't live in an institution, such as a prison, at the government's expense

Countable Income

Countable income is all income used to determine SSI eligibility; it includes wages, unemployment benefits, Social Security payments, investment dividends and net earnings from self-employment.

The SSA excludes some income when determining eligibility for this program. For example, tax refunds and the value of benefits provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) don't count.

To determine an applicant's eligibility for the program, the SSA takes the individual's total income and subtracts any non-countable income to determine total countable income. Payment amounts are determined by subtracting the person's countable income from the federal benefit rate.

For example, if an individual has $400 per month in countable income, this amount would be subtracted from the 2020 federal benefit rate of $783 per month, resulting in a monthly SSI benefit of $383.

An individual whose countable income exceeds the federal benefit rate doesn't qualify for SSI.

Countable Resources

The SSI program also has limits on the value of resources owned by an applicant.

A resource is something of value that can be converted to cash; examples include bank accounts, stocks, savings bonds and personal property. The resource limit is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples.

Not all resources are countable resources; for example, the value of a home is excluded as long as it's the home the recipient lives in.

The following are examples of other assets that aren't considered countable resources for SSI purposes:

  • Personal effects
  • Life insurance with a face value of no more than $1,500
  • Burial plots
  • Household items
  • One vehicle, provided the vehicle is used for transportation
  • Burial funds worth no more than $1,500

How to Apply for SSI

Some applicants qualify to apply for SSI benefits online.

The online application is available to individuals who meet all of the following criteria:

  • Between the ages of 18 and 65
  • U.S. citizen residing in one of the 50 states, the Northern Mariana Islands or the District of Columbia
  • Never been married
  • Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) at the same time
  • Have never applied for or received Social Security benefits

Adults over the age of 65, U.S. nationals and qualified aliens, married people and people who don't plan to apply for SSDI benefits must contact the SSA to schedule an appointment at a local SSI office.

Call (800) 772-1213 to set up an appointment to fill out an SSI application. Be prepared to provide the following to an SSA employee if requested:

  • Social Security card
  • Citizenship and/or naturalization records
  • Proof of income
  • Proof of resources
  • Work history
  • Documentation of living situation (lease, deed, etc.)
  • Information about household expenses

Where Can I Find a Social Security Office Near Me?

The SSA has an online locator. To find a local office, type in the ZIP code and click Locate.