An Overview Of The Supplemental Security Income Program

The Supplemental Security Income is an important component of social welfare and social security apparatus in the United States to deal with poverty which has risen after the 2008 crisis. However, the criteria for its eligibility are somewhat complex requiring fulfilling of conditions related to residency, resources and income before a person can be granted the benefit. Here is a brief simplified introduction of the program and its eligibility requirements.
An Overview of the Supplemental Security Income Program
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After the 2007 economic crisis and the prolonged recession that continued thereafter, there has been a rise in the level of poverty in the United States. Thankfully, for the people, the United Stated has in place safety nets for the underprivileged, which help them manage the downturn. One of these is the Supplemental Security Income Program.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program)

The Supplemental Security Income program or SSI is a U.S. Government welfare program where certain monthly payments are made to the eligible persons on the basis of their need from US Treasury general funds. SSI was put in place in 1974

with the aim of standardization of welfare schemes run in different manner by different states till then. It is a welfare program financed by the Treasury directly, unlike the other Social Security programs including Social Security Disability Insurance benefits which are paid from the Social Security Trust Funds.

Though it is a welfare program, it is still based on the legal mandate of the Social Security Act, wherein the SSI is established by the TITLE XVI. It is also administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Being a welfare program, benefits under Supplementary Security Income are not dependent upon the past working and earning of wages. Thus it is program where young children can also be eligible for benefits.

Eligibility for SSI - Old, Disabled or Blind

Supplemental Security Income is targeted at three categories of persons - the OLD, the DISABLED and the BLIND. For every category there are clear eligibility criteria, but all of them must also fulfil means testing or the criteria to establish that they actually need welfare help, based on their income and resources.

OLD - Persons over the age of 65 years are eligible. A person is supposed to reach that age a day before her sixty fifth birthday.

DISABLED - SSA follows a strict interpretation of the term DISABILITY for allowing SSI benefits, and the definition used is more or less the same as that used by them in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. As per their definition, "Disability means inability to engage in any SGA by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

Thus disability means an inability to engage in any Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA due to disability. Such disability need to be medically determinable. Substantial gainful activity (SGA) refers to ability to earn $940 gross income in a month's period for most disabled individuals, and $1570 for those whose disability includes blindness. The disability should be enough not only to prevent the person the person from indulging in her earlier vocation that she carried on before the disability but it should also be enough to prevent her from being gainfully in any other vocation available.

As a departure from the definition from the SSDI, the definition of disability for children under 18 years means "a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked or severe functional limitation(s), and can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

BLIND - The criteria for blindness in a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens, or an eye which has a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.

Means Testing for SSI - Residence, Income & Resources

To become eligible for SSI, an applicant must satisfy the criteria for means testing in terms of residence, income and resources.

RESIDENCE Requirements for SSI Benefits

As a general rule, the person must be residing in United States (or the Northern Mariana Islands) and be a citizen or national of the United States to be eligible. Thus, some of the U.S. citizens may become ineligible while certain aliens residing in United States may be eligible.

U.S. citizens not residing in United States may not be eligible, but there are many exceptions where they may still be eligible. These include the following.

  1. Children of military parent(s) who were born overseas, were disabled or became blind overseas, or first applied for benefits overseas.

  2. Students studying abroad who were eligible for SSI in the month prior to leaving the US, whose absence will be for less than 1 year, and who are studying to enhance their ability to perform substantial gainful activity, sponsored by an educational institution in the US.

Non-Citizens become eligible for SSI only under exceptional circumstances. These categories include active duty members of the US armed forces, noncitizen members of federally recognized Indian tribes, and certain qualified aliens by satisfying one of following criteria, who then must also meet at least one of the ‘exception’ conditions.

The categories of QUALIFIED ALIENS include following categories.

  • Those admitted as Lawfully admitted for permanent residence (LAPR) under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Those granted conditional entry pursuant to section (a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Those paroled into the US under section 212(d)(5) of the INA for a period of at least 1 year.
  • Those who are refugees admitted to the US under section 207 of the INA.
  • Those granted asylum under section 208 of the INA.
  • Those whose deportation is being withheld under sections 243(h) or 241(b)(3) of the INA Cuban /Haitian entrants under section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980.

The ‘exception conditions’ include -

  • If having already been receiving SSI on 8/22/1996.
  • If having 40 qualifying credits (QUATERS with the minimum prescribed earnings), for those using SSI
    as a supplement to Retirement or Disability Insurance Benefits, when in LAPR status.
  • If being a veteran, active duty member of the U. S. military service, or being the spouse or dependent child of an individual who is a veteran or active duty member of the U. S. military service.
  • If having been lawfully residing in the US on 8/22/1996 and being blind and disabled (excluding aged individuals).
  • If being deemed an alien of one of five immigration statuses within 7 years of being eligible for SSI.

INCOME Requirements for SSI Benefits

To be eligible for receiving benefits under SSI, the applicant's income must be below a prescribed limit based on the state where the individual lives, her living arrangement, the number of people in residence and types of income.

For the purpose of means testing for SSI, INCOME is defined as earned and unearned money that you receive, such as wages, pensions, and social security checks. It can also include non-monetary items such as food, clothing and shelter (unless given to you by a non-profit organization such as a food pantry, church, or a homeless shelter).

However, Social Security does not count all of your income. The following are excluded:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as ‘food stamps’
  • The first $20 of income received every month
  • The first $65 of wages earned every month
  • Half the earnings over the $65 earned every month
  • Student wages and scholarships (some are excluded, not all)
  • Wages used to purchase disability-related items or services needed for work
  • Wages used to pay for the work-related expenses of an individual who is blind
  • Shelter made available by non-profit organization
  • Home Energy Assistance

RESOURCES Requirements for SSI Benefits

To be eligible for benefits under SSI, the applicant's resources must also be below a certain limit.

The limit is generally $2000 for a single individual and $3000 for the combined assets for a married individual. However, conditional benefits may be paid if a substantial portion of the resources are considered non-liquid, resources that cannot be sold within 20 working days provided the applicant agrees to sell the resources at their current market value within a specified period and repay the money after the non-liquid property is sold.

However, not all actual resources are counted in calculating an individual's or couple's resources for SSI purposes. The following are excluded:

  • The house you live in and the land immediately around it
  • Your clothing, household and personal effects
  • Wedding and engagement rings
  • Your car, if worth less than $4,500 wholesale, outfitted especially for your disability, or if used for work or medical appointments
  • Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family
  • Up to $1500 in burial fund for an individual and up to $ 1500 in burial fund for spouse, may not count if they are in an irrevocable burial account
  • Items used by persons who have disabilities in order to work or earn extra income may not count (for example: computer, wheelchair)

The income and assets of other individuals may be considered for certain applicants. If an applicant is less than 18 years of age, the parents’ income and assets may be used in the SSI eligibility process. The income and assets of the spouse will be considered for a married applicant. If a sponsored non-citizen alien applies for SSI benefits the income and the assets of the sponsor will be considered by Social Security.

Benefits under SSI

Payments under SSI consist of Federal and State regulations. The calculation is based around the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). The Federal cash assistance provided under SSI for 2017 is $735 for an individual and $1103 for a couple. Different states add on to the federal benefit. In California, the cash assistance was increased to make the total SSI benefit reach $889.40 per month in 2015. The payments are made on the first of the month for that month, unlike SSDI wherein they are made on first for the previous month.

SSI benefits are adjusted for unearned income by reducing it dollar-for-dollar for all such unearned income, such as unemployment insurance, TANF, alimony, Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits. Even when a person is ineligible to receive SSI payments because of her income being higher, the persons are still eligible for receiving MEDICAID under the 1619 PROVISION.

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