Supplemental Security Income: Frequently Asked Questions


What is Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal cash-assistance program. Recipients are (a) people over 65, people who are blind, or people who have a disability, who (2) are low-income without many assets.

Who distributes SSI?

Social Security distributes SSI.

How will Social Security calculate my income to decide whether I qualify for SSI?

In 2003, if your income is unearned, Social Security will deduct $20 and count the rest of your unearned income against you. If your income is earned, Social Security will deduct $65 plus one-half of your remaining earned income, then count the rest against you. There are special rules for self-employed people, for people living in someone else's household, and for people whose husbands or wives have income.

If I do qualify, how much money can I expect to receive in SSI?

It depends on your income. The more income you have, the less Supplemental Security Income you will receive. For example, in 2003, the maximum monthly benefit for a single person living alone is $552; the most typical maximum monthly benefit for a couple where both persons are over 65 or disabled is $829. Social Security Disability or Retirement counts as unearned income for Supplemental Security Income purposes, so if you receive Social Security in an amount more than $20 over the Supplemental Security Income maximum, you probably won't get Supplemental Security Income.

Who decides if I am disabled?

Social Security determines whether you are disabled. A state agency called the Disability Determination Unit actually does most of the work of collecting medical information about you and making the initial determination, but Social Security officially makes the first decision and all other decisions. If it decides you're not disabled, you can appeal within Social Security to an Administrative Law Judge. If you lose at an Administrative Law Judge hearing, you can appeal either to the Social Security Appeals Council or directly to Federal court.

How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?

Social Security uses a 5-step test to determine whether you are disabled. The overall question is whether you suffer from a severe, medically determinable impairment that keeps you from doing work that exists in significant amounts in the national economy. Social Security uses 5 steps to answer this question.

  • First, Social Security looks to see if you're currently earning more than $700. If you are, you probably will not be considered disabled and the test stops there.
  • The second step asks if your medical problems are severe. If your medical problems are not severe, you also will not be found disabled by Social Security.
  • The third step asks if your condition is as bad as one of the conditions in a Social Security "Listing of Impairments." If your condition is on the list, Social Security will find that you are disabled.
  • The fourth step asks whether you can return to "past relevant work" you did within the past 15 years. If you can, Social Security will find that you are not disabled.
  • The fifth and final step considers your age, education, work history, and remaining capacity to do work to see if you could do work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. If you can't, you will be found disabled.

If you are at an Administrative Law Judge hearing, and your case comes down to step 5, Social Security generally calls a "vocational expert" to testify about the kinds of jobs someone like you might be able to do.

Is there a limit on the resources I can have and still get SSI?

Yes. In 2003, the basic limit is $2000 for a single person and $3000 for a couple. However, if you own your home and live in it, the home and the land it's on do not count, and there are many other assets that are often exempt. These include but are not limited to life insurance policies with a face value under $1,500, your car, and your family burial plots and burial funds.

Will I receive medical coverage along with my SSI?

Yes. Generally, people who get SSI also get Medicaid.

Last Review and Update: Jul 16, 2003