Social Security Benefits (SSI/SSDI)

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You may hear a lot of talk about people claiming government money, debates about welfare, and how the government helps those who struggle financially. Beyond reasonable welfare and foodstamps, administrations have introduced a program for certain individuals who fit a certain category of eligibility. Let’s dive into these programs and how one qualifies. 

What is Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental security income, or ‘SSI’ as it’s often referred to, is governmental assistance that delivers cash payments to disabled children and adults, elderly with spare or no income, or other qualified individuals who are United States citizens. This program was enacted by the Social Security Administration, or ‘SSA’, in 1974 as one of the nation’s priority welfare reforms.

Individuals and their guardians/caregivers may apply for these benefits by completing a form on the SSA’s website and scheduling an appointment with SSA staff within a one to two week period.

SSI is not to be confused with ‘SSDI’, that is, Social Security Disability Insurance. While SSI does assist individuals who have disabilities, the major difference is that SSI eligibility is based on different factors like your age, disability, and how much income and resources they have access to, as well as external factors like a spouse’s income and their living situation, whereas SSDI eligibility is solely based on disability and credible work history.

Not to mention, in most states, someone on SSI will qualify for healthcare coverage through Medicaid. A person with SSDI will qualify for Medicare after at least 24 months of receiving disability payments, with the one exception being individuals who have ALS.

What is the purpose of Supplemental Security Income?

Like any welfare program, SSI was meant to be a means of mitigating poverty in vulnerable populations. Its purpose is to provide minimum income for elderly and those with disabilities that have a limited number of resources to draw from in order to survive. SSI is also a pathway to receiving Medicaid, without even needing to apply. Having access to health insurance for a low-income and low-resource individual can be the difference between life or death.

Who Qualifies for Supplemental Security Income?

Someone is eligible for SSI if they are:

  • Aged 65 or older
  • Have a disability or blindness
  • Little to no resources
  • Little to no income
  • Are a citizen of the US

If you are age 64 or below, you must have a disability to qualify for SSI. This disability must affect your ability to work for at least a year or longer, or severely inhibit/limit your daily life and activities, or may lead to death according to your doctor.

If you earn less than $1,913 in income per month, you are considered eligible. New employers may ask you to provide information on whether or not you receive SSI, but note that they cannot refuse to hire someone based solely on SSI or disability.

Income limits increase for individuals in relationships or when parents apply on behalf of their children. The SSA will also take into account other sources of income besides your job, specifically other welfare or government services like unemployment or pensions.

Having no resources refers to assets or things you own, such as a vehicle, or money in bank accounts should not exceed $2,000. This limit is increased to $3,000 for couples, and these numbers are increased by $2,000 when parents apply on behalf of a child.

How much does one receive while on SSI?

You’ll find that the amount of SSI you receive is not such a flat rate and depends on a multitude of factors. 

As of right now, the monthly limit for SSI goes for around $914 for an individual and $1,371 for a couple. Your income, a family member’s income, and your current living situation may affect or lower these amounts significantly. It’s important to consult with legal help or SSA assistance to get an accurate amount for your specific situation.

If you are still employed, be it a regular job that pays low wages, you are a self-employed individual, or perhaps an odd-jobber or any activity which earns money, it could affect and reduce your SSI payments. The SSA reduces SSI payments by half; that is $1 for every $2 you earn from any of these income sources.

Any income earned from something considered a “non-work” source will practically nullify most SSI payments, given they reduce a rounded $1 for every $1 received. A non-work source would include: disability benefits, child support, unemployment payments, and pensions.

If you are married and live with a spouse, their total income may affect your SSI payment as well. If you are the parent of a child on SSI, payments may be adjusted as well based on the total income of the parents. Other adjustments may be made depending on your living situation, like if you live in another person’s home, the maximum payment you were eligible to receive in a given year may be reduced to a third (not counting those who pay their share of grocery and bills; be prepared to provide receipts of either). State supplements also do not affect your SSI, and may serve as a boost of extra financial support to afford shelter and food).

It is key to understand that if you are on SSI payments, it is your duty to report your monthly income to the SSA, as well as reporting any change of address (especially when moving between states), and any change in marital status. If you’ve been institutionalized, this will also complicate SSI.

What if one disagrees with the changes made to their SSI?

If someone has a dispute or disagreement with the SSA about any adjustments made to their monthly or yearly SSI, they are allowed to appeal these decisions. For these reasons, if you are looking to appeal an SSI decision, you will need an SSI lawyer. These lawyers will be well-versed in key areas of the law including Administrative Law, Disability Law, and Procedural Law.

If you believe you are being withheld any payments, or have been misrepresented, then hiring a lawyer and making an appeal is your best legal move.

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