Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
What is SSI?
Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which was signed into law 40 years ago, provides subsistence-level income to people with extremely low income who are over age 65 or have severe disabilities. SSI also acts as a vital link to Medicaid coverage in many states. SSI is funded through general revenues and is administered by the Social Security Administration.
The maximum possible federal SSI benefit for an individual is $710 (and $1,066 for a couple), with small supplements available in some states, but the average monthly payment for all recipients is $519 ($417 for those 65 and older). A SSI recipient cannot have more than $2,000 in resources ($3,000 for a couple), and, generally, in most states, must have less than $694 in monthly income in order to be eligible. Most SSI recipients are eligible for Medicaid, which is administered by the states.
Who receives SSI?
The poorest two million people over age 65 and more than 7 million people with severe disabilities receive SSI. The majority of older people receiving SSI are women. It’s estimated that one out of every three people age 65 or over applying for SSI has a primary language other than English. Although disability is not generally an eligibility requirement for people over age 65, a very high percentage of older people receiving SSI do have significant disabilities, even when compared to their contemporaries.
Why is SSI important?
SSI provides a basic income for individuals with no other way to obtain food, shelter, and clothing. Though the Federal Benefit Rate is inadequate to guarantee a secure standard of living, SSI can often prevent homelessness, hunger, and disease for extremely vulnerable individuals.
States and localities recognize the importance of SSI access for low-income individuals. Increasing SSI access in local communities reduces homelessness, increases access to medical care, and decreases pressure on local social service providers. SSI is an essential tool for taking care of individuals with no other viable option.
What is the National Senior Citizens Law Center doing to improve SSI?
During our 40-year history we have led class action cases that have clarified the rights of beneficiaries and won billions of dollars in benefits. We work closely with legal services programs and disability advocates who have sought over the years to improve the administration of SSI benefits. We support reforms to the SSI program, including increasing the federal benefit rate, resource limits and the general income disregard, improving the non-disability appeals process, and ending draconian restrictions such as a reduction in benefits for in-kind support and maintenance and the transfer penalty. For more information, please refer to our SSI policy briefs, available at our website www.nsclc.org.