Supplemental Security Income

Updated on January 31, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program in the United States that provides financial assistance to individuals aged (65 and more), or disabled individuals who have limited income and resources. It is designed to provide cash benefits to meet needs such as food, clothing, and shelter for eligible individuals with little or no income.

Supplemental Security Income

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The program is means-tested, which means eligibility is based on an individual’s income and resources. To qualify for SSI, an applicant must have limited income and resources below certain thresholds set by the SSA. The amount of SSI benefits a person can receive is determined by federal law and is subject to change annually. Some states may supplement the federal SSI benefit with additional funds.

Key Takeaways

  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a federal assistance program that provides financial support to aged (65+), blind, and disabled individuals with limited income and resources.
  • To qualify for SSI, individuals must meet specific criteria, including having limited income and resources and being aged, blind, or disabled. And being a U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen.
  • The benefit amount varies based on income, living arrangements, and other benefits received. SSI benefits are adjusted annually based on federal guidelines.

Supplemental Security Income Explained

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program in the United States to provide financial assistance to elderly and disabled individuals with limited income and resources. However, there are both positive and critical considerations when examining SSI and its history.

One of the positive aspects of SSI is that it helps vulnerable individuals meet their basic needs. Additionally, SSI aims to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life for those unable to support themselves due to age, disability, or blindness. It acts as a safety net, offering financial stability and access to essential resources such as food, shelter, and clothing.

Furthermore, SSI considers the diverse circumstances and challenges individuals face. Besides, It recognizes the specific needs and expenses associated with disabilities or visual impairments, ensuring that those who require additional assistance receive the support they need. This targeted approach helps address inequalities and promotes inclusivity for marginalized populations.

However, there are several critical considerations when examining SSI and its history. One of the main criticisms is that the benefit levels often need to meet the actual cost of living. The benefit amounts may need to catch up with inflation or adequately reflect the rising costs of essential goods and services. As a result, beneficiaries may still struggle to make ends meet or face financial hardships.

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To qualify for SSI benefits, individuals must meet the following requirements:

  1. Age, Disability, or Blindness: Applicants must be aged 65 or more or have a disability or blindness as defined by the SSA. The disability or blindness must meet the SSA’s severity and duration criteria, which means it must be expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death.
  2. Limited Income: SSI is a needs-based program, so individuals must have a fixed income. The SSA considers various sources of income, including earnings, pensions, Social Security benefits, and support from family or friends. Specific income exclusions and disregards also apply, meaning not all income is counted when determining eligibility.
  3. Limited Resources: Applicants must also have limited resources (assets) to qualify for SSI. Resources include cash, bank accounts, investments, and property that can be converted into cash. The SSA sets limits on the amount of resources an individual can have. Some assets, such as a primary residence, personal effects, and certain vehicles, may be excluded or have specific value limits.
  4. Citizenship or Qualified Alien Status: SSI benefits are generally available only to U.S. citizens or certain non-citizens who meet specific criteria. Qualified non-citizens must have lawful immigration status and meet other requirements, such as residing in the U.S. for a certain period and meeting specific work-related conditions.

How To Apply?

To apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), one can follow these steps:

  1. Gather necessary documents: Before starting the application process, collect important documents and information one must provide. This may include a Social Security number, birth certificate, proof of citizenship or qualified alien status, proof of income and resources, medical records, and other relevant documentation.
  2. Complete the application: One has several options for completing the SSI application:
    • Apply online: Visit the Social Security Administration’s website and navigate to the “Apply for Benefits” section. Follow the instructions to fill out the application.
    • Apply by phone: Contact the Social Security Administration at their toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), and schedule an appointment to apply by phone.
    • Apply in person: Visit the local Social Security office and request an in-person appointment to complete the application. One can find the nearest office on their website using the SSA’s office locator tool.
  3. Provide required information: During the application process, one must provide detailed information about personal and financial circumstances. This includes the name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, income sources, resources, and any disabilities or medical conditions that affect the ability to work.
  4. Attend interviews and medical evaluations: Sometimes, the SSA may schedule a consultation with one to gather additional information or clarify any details.
  5. Await a decision: After applying, the SSA will review the case and determine the eligibility for SSI benefits. This process may take some time, and the length can vary depending on the location and individual circumstances. Moreover, one may be notified by mail regarding the decision, and if approved, one will receive information about the benefit amount and payment details.


The key benefits associated with SSI:

  1. Cash Assistance: SSI offers monthly payments to help individuals meet their basic needs. The benefit amount determines federal guidelines and adjusts annually. The actual cost can depend on income, living arrangements, and other benefits received.
  2. Medicaid Coverage: SSI recipients are generally eligible for Medicaid, a healthcare program that provides medical coverage to low-income individuals. Medicaid can help cover medical expenses, including doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription medications, and other necessary treatments.
  3. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SSI beneficiaries are often eligible for the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. SNAP provides qualified individuals with funds to purchase food, helping to ensure access to a nutritious diet.
  4. Housing Assistance: Some states offer additional housing assistance to SSI recipients, such as rental subsidies or housing vouchers. These programs aim to help individuals secure affordable and stable housing.
  5. State Supplementary Payments: Certain states provide supplementary payments to SSI recipients, increasing the total benefit amount beyond the federal standard. The availability and amount of additional state payments vary depending on the state’s policies.
  6. Automatic Enrollment in Medicare: After receiving SSI benefits for 24 months, individuals become eligible for Medicare, a federal health insurance program primarily for individuals aged 65 and older. This can help cover healthcare costs, including hospital stays, doctor visits, and prescription drugs.
  7. Continued Eligibility for Other Programs: Qualifying for SSI can establish eligibility for or streamline the application process for other programs and services. This can include programs like Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state-specific programs.


There are several disadvantages and limitations associated with the program. These disadvantages include:

  1. Income and Resource Limits: SSI has strict income and resource limits determining eligibility. Individuals with even modest incomes or resources may be excluded from receiving benefits. This can create challenges for those with limited financial means who must meet the narrow eligibility criteria.
  2. Benefit Adequacy: The benefit amounts are often criticized for failing to adequately meet the cost of living. The benefit levels may need to catch up with inflation or reflect the rising costs of essential goods and services. As a result, beneficiaries may struggle to cover basic needs or face financial hardships.
  3. Administrative Complexities: The application process for SSI can be complex and time-consuming. Applicants may need to provide extensive documentation, attend interviews, and undergo medical evaluations. The bureaucratic nature of the program can create barriers and delays in accessing benefits.
  4. Geographic Disparities: SSI benefits can vary depending on the recipient’s state. Some states offer supplemental payments, while others may not. This leads to geographic disparities, where individuals with similar circumstances receive different benefits based on location.
  5. Limited Earned Income Allowance: SSI has strict rules regarding earned income. Beneficiaries can work, but income thresholds and regulations can reduce or lose benefits. This can dis-incentivize individuals from pursuing employment or reaching their full earning potential.

Supplemental Security Income vs Social Security vs SSDI

Here’s a comparison of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security, and Social Security Disability Insurance in tabular form:

FeatureSupplemental Security Income (SSI)Social SecuritySocial Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Eligibility CriteriaBased on limited income and resources, aged (65+), disabled, or blindBased on work credits earned through employmentBased on work credits earned through employment and having a disability or blindness
Source of FundingGeneral tax revenuesPayroll taxesPayroll taxes
Benefit AmountVaries based on income, living arrangements, and other factorsBased on average lifetime earningsBased on average lifetime earnings
Medical CoverageEligible for MedicaidEligible for MedicareEligible for Medicare
Work IncentivesLimited earned income allowanceMay work while receiving benefits, subject to income thresholdsMay work while receiving benefits, subject to income thresholds
Cost-of-Living AdjustmentsBenefit levels may be adjusted annually based on federal guidelinesBenefits are adjusted annually based on cost-of-living increasesBenefits are adjusted annually based on cost-of-living increases
Non-Citizen EligibilitySome qualified non-citizens may be eligibleEligible for U.S. citizens and certain non-citizensEligible for U.S. citizens and certain non-citizens
PurposeProvides financial assistance for basic needs to low-income elderly, blind, and disabled individualsProvides retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and disability benefitsProvides benefits to individuals unable to work due to a disability or blindness

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How often are SSI benefit amounts adjusted?

SSI benefit levels may be adjusted annually based on federal guidelines, although the exact adjustments can vary. The Social Security Administration determines these adjustments based on changes in the cost of living.

Are SSI benefits taxable?

No, SSI benefits are not subject to federal income tax. However, depending on the state’s tax laws, they may be subject to state income tax.

Can I receive both SSI and Social Security retirement benefits?

It is possible to receive SSI and Social Security retirement benefits, but the total combined income must still meet the income and resource limits set by the SSA.

What should I do if my SSI application is denied?

If the SSI application is denied, one can appeal the decision. The SSA provides a process for requesting an appeal, including filing a request for reconsideration, attending a hearing before an administrative law judge, and further appeals if necessary.

This has been a guide to what is Supplemental Security Income. We explain its eligibility, benefits, comparison with social security, & how to apply for it. You can learn more about it from the following articles –

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