A number of programs funded by the federal government provide financial assistance to individuals and families with special needs either directly by cash payments or indirectly through some other means. One of these programs, Supplementary Security Income, is a cash assistance program intended to meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter for those who are aged, blind or disabled.
What is Supplemental Security Income?
Supplemental Security Income is a federal income supplement program designed to help the aged, blind and people with disabilities, who have little or no income, by providing them with cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. This income provides cash payments that can be used for:
- Medical or dental care not covered by health insurance
- Home improvements
- Furniture for the individual's personal needs
- A down payment on a car and monthly car payments, as long as the car is used for and owned by the individual
- Personal needs such as clothing and recreation
If there is money left over, it must be saved. The Social Security Administration advises families to save the funds in an interest-bearing account or in U.S. Savings Bonds.
Who is eligible for Supplemental Security Income?
Generally, SSI pays benefits to adults and children with disabilities who meet the following requirements:
- Maximum income. Your income and financial resources cannot exceed the income limits set for your state; however, not all financial resources count. Some exclusions include the home you live in, a car depending on use or value, burial funds and life insurance up to a specified limit. Depending on whether you and your family live on the installation or off, Basic Allowance for Housing may be included in income used to determine eligibility. Combat pay, hostile fire pay and imminent danger pay is excluded from income for SSI eligibility purposes. Local Social Security offices can provide information about the state income limit and exclusions for special needs families.
- Severe physical or mental impairment for children. For disabled children under the age of 18, there must be medical evidence of a severe physical or mental impairment that limits the child's ability to function for a continuous period of at least 12 months. The SSI Program website lists qualifying conditions. The state office will determine if the disability qualifies for SSI. This evaluation can take several months. The very severely disabled may receive benefits while formal determination is conducted.
- Medical review for adults with disabilities. When a child who receives SSI turns 18, there is a medical review, as the criteria for SSI is different for adults. At 18, individuals are expected to contribute to their income unless they reside with, and are dependent upon, their parents. As representative payees for a disabled adult, it is important that you report any changes that may affect the adult's eligibility. Every year, the SSA will ask parents to complete a Representative Payee Program Form to account for the monetary benefits, and recipients may have to pay federal taxes on the money received. If the disabled person resides in an institution, he or she may still receive SSI depending on other income and whether Medicaid is paying for all or part of the cost of care.
- Live in the United States or in overseas locations with a military parent. Children under 18 years of age may continue to receive SSI benefits or apply for benefits while overseas if they are U.S. citizens and living with a parent who is a member of the U.S. military stationed overseas. More information on SSI overseas availability can be found on Special Rules for Children of Military Personnel Living Overseas. Adults 18 or older cannot receive SSI if they leave the states, District of Columbia or Northern Mariana Islands for more than 30 days. People who live in Puerto Rico cannot receive SSI. Adults must also report when they leave public school.
In some states, SSI is the gateway for other federal programs such as Medicaid, Medicare premiums, food stamps, etc. Adult recipients with disabilities are also eligible for federally funded, state-administered educational and vocational rehabilitation and job training programs. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, children who are disabled and receive SSI are automatically eligible for Medicaid.
You can find out if your family member is eligible for SSI by completing the SSA's Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.
How can service members apply for Supplemental Security Income?
Applicants may complete part of their application online by first visiting the Social Security Administration website. To apply for SSI for a child with a disability, service members should call the SSA's toll free number 800-772-1213 or contact the local SSI office to make an appointment. At the appointment, applicants will be asked to provide proof of age and information about their home, income, insurance and assets in addition to the disability-related documentation. The Social Security website can help applicants identify all of the documents to support their claim. Parents or guardians, and in some cases third parties, can apply for children.
How much assistance can be expected?
For information on SSI payments, visit the SSA website. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide; however, some states supplement it for certain recipients. To find out which states offer a supplemental program, contact the state office or visit SSI State Supplements. Applicants can also call the SSA at 800-772-1213.