SSI - Social Security’s Safety Net – Part 6
Article submitted by Mike Baksa, Lead Public Affairs Specialist, Social Security Administration in Denver Regional Communications Office. For more information visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
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To view Part 2 of this Series – Click Here
To view Part 3 of this Series – Click Here
To view Part 4 of this Series – Click Here
To view Part 5 of this Series – Click Here
In an earlier edition of Seniors Resource Guide you may have noticed a brief mention about another program administered by Social Security – SSI. Officially known as the Supplemental Security Income program, SSI is a safety net for individuals who are disabled or blind or at least age 65, and who have limited income and resources. It is a program that pays monthly benefits not only to adults who qualify but to disabled children as well who meet its financial requirements. Even though Social Security manages the program, SSI is not paid for by Social Security taxes. SSI is paid for by U.S. Treasury general funds, not the Social Security trust funds. It provides cash assistance to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. The basic SSI amount is the same nationwide – in 2012, $698 per month to qualified individuals and $1048 per month to eligible couples. However, many states add money to the basic benefit.
Whether you can get SSI depends on your income and resources (the things you own), in addition to your age or disabling condition. Income is money you receive such as wages, Social Security benefits and pensions. Income also includes such things as food and shelter. The amount of SSI you may receive also depends partly on how and where you live, as an individual’s living arrangements are part of the eligibility determination. You can call us (1-800-772-1213) to find out the income limits in your state, as well as an explanation of our living arrangement determinations.
Social Security does not count all of your income when we decide whether you qualify for SSI. For example, we do not count:
- The first $20 a month of most income you receive;
- The first $65 a month you earn from working, as well as half the amount over $65;
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps;
- Shelter you get from private nonprofit organizations; and
- Most home energy assistance.
If you are married, we also include part of your spouse’s income and resources when deciding whether you qualify for SSI. If you are younger than age 18, we include part of your parents’ income and resources. And, if you are a sponsored noncitizen, we may include your sponsor’s income and resources. If you are a student, some of the wages or scholarships you receive may not count. If you are disabled but work, Social Security does not count wages you use to pay for items or services that help you to work. For example, if you need a wheelchair, the wages you use to pay for the wheelchair do not count as income when we decide whether you qualify for SSI. Also, Social Security does not count any wages a blind person uses for work expenses. For example, if a blind person uses wages to pay for transportation to and from work, the wages used to pay the transportation cost are not counted as income. If you are disabled or blind, some of the income you use (or save) for training or to buy things you need to work may not count.
Resources that we count in deciding whether you qualify for SSI include real estate, bank accounts, cash, stocks and bonds. You may be able to get SSI if your resources are worth no more than $2,000. A couple may be able to get SSI if they have resources worth no more than $3,000. If you own property that you are trying to sell, you may be able to get SSI while trying to sell it. Social Security does not count everything you own in deciding whether you have too many resources to qualify for SSI. For example, we do not count:
- The home you live in and the land it is on;
- Life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or less;
- Your car (usually);
- Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family; and
- Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse.
To get SSI, you must reside in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands and be a U.S. citizen or national. In some cases, noncitizen residents can qualify for SSI. If you are eligible for regular Social Security or other benefits, you should also apply for them. You can get SSI and other benefits if you are eligible for both.
If you reside in a city or county rest home, halfway house or other public institution, you usually cannot get SSI. But there are some exceptions -
- If you live in a publicly operated community residence that serves no more than 16 people, you may get SSI.
- If you live in a public institution mainly to attend approved educational or job training to help you get a job, you may get SSI.
- If you live in a public emergency shelter for the homeless, you may get SSI.
- If you live in a public or private institution and Medicaid is paying more than half the cost of your care, you may get a small SSI benefit.
- If you live in certain types of institutions, you may get SSI.
The Supplemental Security Income program can be a complex one as you can see. We need a lot of information from you when you apply. But let me give you a tip. If you are applying for SSI because of a disability, you may be able to complete some of the paperwork here. Both the Adult Disability Report and the Child Disability Report can be completed online. You also can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to ask for an appointment with a Social Security representative.
There are more than 65,000 SSI recipients in the state Colorado alone. Throughout the nation, almost 8 million people receive SSI payments each month. In Colorado as well as in many other states, eligibility to SSI payments from us also provides for Medicaid eligibility. And here’s a special note for those who are blind or disabled, receiving SSI and who wish to return to work - if you work, there are special rules to help you. You may be able to keep getting SSI payments while you work. As you earn more money, your SSI payments may be reduced or stopped, but you may be able to keep your Medicaid coverage. Blind or disabled people who apply for SSI may get free special services to help them work. These services may include counseling, job training and help in finding work. You can find more information in Working While Disabled—How We Can Help.
If you get SSI, you might be able to get help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. If everyone in your home is applying for or getting SSI, you can apply for SNAP at a Social Security office. If you do not live in a home where everyone is applying for or getting SSI, visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap to find out how to apply. For more information, ask for Nutrition Assistance Programs (Publication No. 05-10100). If you have Medicare coverage and have low income and few resources, your state may help pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other Medicare expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify, so to find out if you do, contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid agency. You can get more information about these programs from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) by calling the Medicare toll-free number, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call TTY 1-877-486-2048.
You also may be able to get extra help paying for the annual deductibles, monthly premiums and prescription co-payments related to the Medicare prescription drug program (Part D). You may qualify for extra help if you have limited income and limited resources. These income and resource limits change each year and are not the same as the SSI income and resource limits. You can contact Social Security for the current numbers.
If you have both Medicaid with prescription drug coverage and Medicare, Medicare and SSI, or if your state pays for your Medicare premiums, you automatically will get this extra help and you don’t need to apply.
We’ve covered a lot of ground today, and I wanted to let you know about some of the assistance available for people with limited income and resources, especially Social Security’s safety net, SSI.
More about the Author:
Mike Baksa is the Lead Public Affairs Specialist for Social Security Administration in Denver Regional Communications Office. For more information about Social Security Administration visit www.socialsecurity.gov. Mike Baksa may be reached via email
Posted April 2012 on www.SeniorsResourceGuide.com