Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Social Security Administration

Supplemental Security Income

SSA Publication No. 05-11000
January 1997
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Who Should Read This Booklet?

You should, if you want to learn more about the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. This booklet explains what SSI is, who can get it, and how to sign up for SSI.

We have other booklets that explain other Social Security programs. A table on the last page lists some of them.

Please Note: This booklet provides a general overview of the SSI program. The information it contains is not meant to cover all parts of the law. For specific information about your case, contact Social Security.

Part 1—All About SSI
What Is SSI?
Who Can Get SSI?
How Much Can You Get?
Other Help You Can Get

Part 2—Rules For Getting SSI
Your Income And The Things You Own
Other Rules You Must Meet
If You Live In A Public Or Private Institution

Part 3—Signing Up For SSI
How To Apply
What To Bring

A Word About Social Security Benefits

Your Personal Information Is Safe With Social Security

If You Have Questions

Other Booklets Available

Part 1—All About SSI

What Is SSI?

SSI is short for Supplemental Security Income. It pays monthly checks to people who are 65 or older, or blind, or have a disability and who don’t own much or have a lot of income.

SSI isn’t just for adults. Monthly checks can go to disabled and blind children, too.

People who get SSI usually get food stamps and Medicaid, too. Medicaid helps pay doctor and hospital bills.

Who Can Get SSI?

To get SSI, you must be 65 or older or blind or disabled.

Blind means you are either totally blind or have very poor eyesight. Children as well as adults can get benefits because of blindness.

Disabled means you have a physical or mental problem that keeps you from working and is expected to last at least a year or to result in death. Children as well as adults can get benefits because of disability. When deciding if a child is disabled, Social Security looks at how his or her disability affects everyday life. For more information about benefits for children, contact any Social Security office to ask for the booklet, Benefits For Children With Disabilities (Publication No. 05–10026).

Sometimes, a person whose sight is not poor enough to qualify for benefits as a blind person may be able to get checks as a disabled person if his or her condition prevents him or her from working.

How Much Can You Get?

It depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. However, many states add money to the basic check. You can call us at 1–800–772–1213 to find out the amounts for your state.

Other Help You Can Get

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county. For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, or some other social services. For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office.

Food Stamps
People who get SSI usually can get food stamps, too.

If everyone in your house is signing up for SSI or getting SSI, the Social Security office will help you fill out the food stamp application.

If you don’t live in a house where everyone is signing up for SSI or getting SSI, you’ll have to sign up for food stamps at the local food stamp office. For more information about food stamps, contact any Social Security office to ask for the booklet, Food Stamps And Other Nutrition Programs (Publication No. 05–10100).

Usually, when you get SSI you can also get Medicaid. Medicaid helps pay your doctor and hospital bills. You can get more information about Medicaid at your local welfare or medical assistance office.

Help For Low–Income Medicare Beneficiaries
If you get Medicare and have low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other Medicare expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify. To find out if you do, contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid agency. For more general information about the program, contact Social Security and ask for a copy of the leaflet, Medicare Savings For Qualified Beneficiaries (HCFA Publication No. 02184).

Part 2—Rules For Getting SSI

Your Income And The Things You Own

Whether you can get SSI also depends on what you own and how much income you have. Income is the money you have coming in such as wages, Social Security checks, and pensions. Income also includes non–cash items you receive such as food, clothing, or shelter.

If you’re married, we also look at the income of your spouse and the things he or she owns. If you’re under 18, we may look at the income of your parents and the things they own. And, if you’re a sponsored alien, we may also look at the income of your sponsor and what he or she owns.

The amount of income you can have each month and still get SSI depends partly on where you live. You can call us at 1–800–772–1213 to find out the income limits in your state.

Social Security doesn’t count all of your income when we decide if you can get SSI. For example, we don’t count:

  • The first $20 of most income received in a month;
  • The first $65 a month you earn from working and half the amount over $65;
  • Food stamps;
  • Most food, clothing, or shelter you get from private nonprofit organizations; or
  • Most home energy assistance.

If you are a student, some of your wages or scholarships you receive may not count.

If you are disabled but work, Social Security does not count any wages you use to pay for items or services you need to work because of your disability. For example, if you need a wheelchair, the wages you use to pay for the wheelchair don’t count as income.

Also, Social Security does not count any wages a blind person uses to pay expenses that are caused by working. For example, if a blind person uses wages to pay for transportation to and from work, the transportation cost isn’t counted as income.

If you’re disabled or blind, some of the income you use (or save) for training or to buy things you need to work or earn more money may not count.

The Things You Own
The things you own that we consider include items such as real estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, cash, and stocks and bonds.

A person may be able to get SSI with items worth up to $2,000. A couple may be able to get SSI with items worth up to $3,000. If you own property or another resource that you are trying to sell, you may be able to get SSI while trying to sell it.

Social Security doesn’t count everything you own. For example:

  • The home you live in and the land it’s on do not count.
  • Your personal and household goods and life insurance policies may not count, depending on their value.
  • Your car usually does not count.
  • Burial plots for you and members of your immediate
    family do not count.
  • Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse may not count.
  • If you are blind or have a disability, some items may not count if you plan to use them to work or earn extra  income.

A Special Note For People Who Are Blind Or Have A Disability
If you work, there are special rules to help you. You may be able to keep getting some money from SSI while you work. But as you earn more money, your SSI checks may go down or stop. Even if your SSI checks stop, you may be able to keep your Medicaid coverage.

You also may be able to set aside some of your money for a work goal or to go to school. The people at Social Security can tell you how to do this. The money you set aside doesn’t count toward the SSI limits on income and the things you own. That means it won’t reduce the amount of your SSI check.

Blind or disabled people who apply for SSI may get special services from their state. These services include counseling, job training, and help in finding work.

For more information about these rules, contact Social Security to ask for the booklet, Working While Disabled … How We Can Help (Publication No. 05–10095).

Other Rules You Must Meet

Before you can get SSI, you also must meet other rules.

  • You must live in the U.S. or Northern Mariana Islands.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or national. (Some noncitizens can qualify for SSI. Ask for the factsheet SSI for Noncitizens, Publication No. 05–11051, for information about who can qualify.)
  • If you’re eligible for Social Security or other benefits, you must apply for them. (You can get SSI and Social Security checks if you’re eligible for both.)
  • If you’re disabled, you must accept vocational rehabilitation services if they’re offered.

If You Live In A Public Or Private Institution

People who live in city or county rest homes, halfway houses, or other public institutions usually cannot get SSI checks. But there are some exceptions.

If you live in a publicly operated community residence which 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 that will help you get a job, you may get SSI.

If you’re living in a public emergency shelter for the homeless, you may be able to get SSI checks.

If you’re in a public or private institution and Medicaid is paying more than half the cost of your care, you may get a small SSI check.

Part 3—Signing Up For SSI

How To Apply

Just visit your local Social Security office. Or call us at 1–800–772–1213 for an appointment with a Social Security representative who will help you apply.

Parents or guardians can apply for blind or disabled children under 18.

What To Bring

You should have the following things before you apply. Even if you don’t have all of the things listed, sign up anyway. The people in the Social Security office can help you get whatever is needed.

  • Your Social Security card or a record of your Social Security number;
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of your age;
  • Information about the home where you live, such as your mortgage or your lease and landlord’s name;
  • Payroll slips, bank books, insurance policies, car registration, burial fund records, and other information about your income and the things you own;
  • If you’re signing up for disability, the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of doctors, hospitals, and clinics that have seen you;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen status.

You should also bring your checkbook or other papers that show your bank account number so we can have your benefits deposited directly into your account. Direct deposit protects benefits from loss, theft, or mail delay. The money is always on time and ready to use without making a trip to the bank. Since August 1, 1996, only people who certify they don’t have a bank account receive checks. By 1999, all beneficiaries must have their monthly benefits deposited in their bank account.

A Word About Social Security Benefits

We also pay Social Security benefits to people who have worked long enough under Social Security. Often, people can get both Social Security and SSI benefits.

Social Security pays retirement benefits, disability benefits, and survivors benefits. Retirement benefits go mostly to people 62 or older and their families. Disability benefits go to people with disabilities and their families. Survivors benefits are paid to the families of workers who have died.

Some Social Security and SSI rules are the same. For example, the rules we use to decide if you’re disabled are the same for Social Security and SSI. You must be unable to do any kind of work to be considered disabled under both programs.

Other Social Security and SSI rules are different. For example, after we decide a person who has filed for Social Security disability benefits is disabled, we do not pay benefits for five months from the date we say the disability began. We pay SSI disability benefits for the first full month after the date a person filed his or her claim, or, if later, the date on which he or she becomes eligible for SSI. There also are different rules for people with disabilities who want to go back to work.

Your Personal Information Is Safe With Social Security

Social Security keeps personal information on millions of people. That information––such as your Social Security number, earnings record, age, and address––is personal and confidential. Generally, we will discuss this information only with you. We need your permission if you want someone else to help with your Social Security business.

If you ask a friend or family member to call Social Security, you need to be with them when they call so we will know that you want them to help. The Social Security representative will ask your permission to discuss your Social Security business with that person.

If you send a friend or family member to our local office to conduct your Social Security business, send your written consent with them. Only with your written permission can SSA discuss your personal information with them and provide the answers to your questions.

In the case of a minor child, the natural parent or legal guardian can act on the child’s behalf in taking care of the child’s Social Security business.

We urge you to be careful with your Social Security number and to protect its confidentiality whenever possible. Although we can’t prevent others from asking for your Social Security number, you should know that your Social Security records are kept private.

There are times when the law requires Social Security to give information to other government agencies to conduct other government health or welfare programs––such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid, and food stamps. Programs receiving information from Social Security are prohibited from sharing that information.

If You Have Questions

For more information, visit or write any Social Security office. Or phone our toll–free number, 1–800–772–1213. If you think you might be able to get SSI, don’t delay. Call today. SSA’s toll–free telephone service is available 24 hours a day. You can speak to a service representative between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. Whenever you call, have your Social Security number handy.

Recorded information and services are available 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll–free “TTY” number, 1–800–325–0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days.

The Social Security Administration treats all calls confidentially––whether they’re made to our toll–free numbers or to one of our local offices. We also want to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. That’s why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some incoming and outgoing telephone calls.

Other Booklets Available

Social Security has many publications that contain information about other Social Security programs. Contact Social Security to get a free copy of any of these publications. They include:

  • Social Security—Understanding The Benefits (Publication No. 05–10024)—A comprehensive explanation of all the Social Security programs.
  • Social Security—Retirement Benefits (Publication No. 05–10035)––Explains Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Social Security—Disability Benefits (Publication No. 05–10029)—Explains Social Security disability benefits.
  • Medicare (Publication No. 10043)—Explains Medicare hospital insurance and medical insurance.
  • Social Security—Survivors Benefits (Publication No. 05–10084)—Explains Social Security survivors benefits.

Social Security publications are also available to users of the Internet. Type to access the Internet and these publications.

Click here for a related Social Security document.



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