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About Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Helping the Aged and Disabled to Meet Basic Needs


Low angle low section view of a blind man walking with the aid of a white stick
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Updated May 16, 2014
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal government benefit program providing cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter to persons who are blind or otherwise disabled and have little or no other income. Monthly SSI benefits are paid to persons with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Blind or disabled children, as well as adults, can qualify to get SSI benefits.

SSI is Different From Social Security Benefits
While SSI benefits are administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI benefits do not require and are not based on the recipient's prior work or a family member's prior work. In other words, no current or prior employment is required to qualify for SSI benefits.

Unlike Social Security benefits, SSI benefits are funded by general funds from the U.S. Treasury generated by income taxes paid be individuals and corporations. Social Security taxes withheld from workers' paychecks under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) do not help fund the SSI program. Total SSI funding, along with maximum monthly amounts to be paid to SSI recipients, are set annually by Congress as part of the federal budget process.

SSI recipients in most states can also have their benefits supplemented by Medicaid to help pay for doctor bills, prescriptions and other health care costs.

SSI beneficiaries may also be eligible for food stamps in every state except California. In some states, an application for SSI benefits also serves as an application for food stamps.

Basic Qualifications for SSI Benefits

To get SSI benefits, a person must:

  • disabled, blind, or at least 65 years old and have "limited" outside income and resources.

  • be a resident of the United States and not be absent from the country for more than 30 days; and

  • be either a U.S. citizen or national, or in one of certain categories of eligible non–citizens.

Details on SSI eligibility and qualifications can be found on the Social Security - SSI Eligibility Requirements web site.

SSI Payment Details
Amounts of SSI benefit payments are set annually by Congress and are typically adjusted every January to reflect the current cost of living. The maximum monthly SSI benefit amount in 2008, adjusted for the 2.3 percent January 2008 COLA, is $637 for an individual and $956 for a couple. This amount is projected to increase to $653 for an individual and $980 for a couple when adjusted for the estimated 2.5 percent COLA payable beginning in January 2009. The average monthly benefit payment was $458 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 and is expected to increase to $473 in FY 2008 and $486 in FY 2009.

By 2009, the number of SSI recipients is expected to exceed 7.3 million people.

SSI benefit payments are not taxable.

Exact benefit amounts paid to individual SSI recipients may be less than the maximum depending on non-SSI income, like wages and other Social Security benefits. Persons living in their own home, in the home of another person, or in a Medicaid-approved nursing home may also have their SSI payments reduced accordingly.

Updated current maximum and average SSI payment amounts can be found on the SSI Statistics web site.

For Complete Information on the SSI Program
Complete details on all aspects of the SSI program are available on the Social Security - Understanding Supplemental Security Income web site.

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