Supplemental Security Income (SSI): A Fact Sheet

Supplemental Security Income (SSI):
A Fact Sheet
Scott Szymendera
Analyst in Disability Policy
Domestic Social Policy Division
Background and Eligibility. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program,
Title XVI of the Social Security Act, was enacted in 1972 and implemented in 1974 to
assure a minimum cash income to all aged, blind, or disabled persons. SSI is provided
to eligible aged or disabled individuals or couples who have limited income and
resources. For adults, disability is defined as the inability to engage in substantial gainful
activity (SGA) by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment
expected to result in death or last at least 12 months. In general, the worker must be
unable to do any kind of work that exists in the national economy, taking into account
age, education, and work experience. A child under age 18 may qualify as disabled if he
or she has an impairment that results in “marked and severe” functional limitations.1
SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and operates in the

50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands. To qualify for SSI,

a person must be (1) a citizen of the United States or a “qualified alien”2 and (2) a resident
of the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands, a child of a person in the military
stationed outside the United States, or a student temporarily abroad. Other requirements
related to residence in certain public institutions, absence from the United States, filing
for other potential benefits, and fugitive felon and probation/parole violator status also3
SSI Benefits. The maximum federal SSI payment (also referred to as the federal
benefit rate) is $637 per month for an individual living independently and $956 for a
couple living independently in 2008. All but six states and the Commonwealth of the
1 See CRS Report RL32279, Primer on Disability Benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance
(SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), by Scott Szymendera.
2 See CRS Report RL31114, Noncitizen Eligibility for Major Federal Public Assistance
Programs, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.
3 See CRS Report RL33394, Social Security Administration: Suspension of Benefits for Fugitive
Felons and the Agency’s Response to the Folwkes Decision, by Scott Szymendera and Kathleen
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Northern Mariana Islands supplement the federal SSI benefit with additional payments,
which may be made directly by the state or combined with the federal payment. Federal
SSI benefit maximums are adjusted annually (in January) using the Consumer Price Index
to reflect changes in the cost of living. Most SSI recipients have other income; their
countable income is subtracted from the federal benefit rate to determine their SSI
eligibility and payment amount. In calculating countable income, SSI provides for certain
income exclusions (e.g., the first $20 of monthly unearned income; the first $65 plus
one-half of remaining monthly earned income). In October 2007, the average monthly
federal SSI payment was $537.40 for children under age 18; $453.00 for adults aged

18-64; and $332.80 for adults aged 65 or older.

SSA generally sends the monthly SSI check directly to the recipient. However, SSA
assigns representative payees to (1) minors, (2) individuals incapable of physically or
mentally managing their own benefits, and (3) individuals declared legally incompetent
by a court.
SSI recipients living alone or in a household where all members receive SSI benefits
are also automatically eligible for Food Stamps. States have three options for determining
Medicaid eligibility for SSI recipients. In 32 states and the District of Columbia,
individuals who are eligible for SSI are automatically eligible for Medicaid. SSI
recipients in seven states and the Northern Mariana Islands must complete a separate
application to be eligible for Medicaid. Eleven other states require a separate application
and may elect to use more restrictive Medicaid eligibility criteria for SSI recipients.4
Income and Asset Limits. The SSI program generally counts all types of income
in determining eligibility and payment amounts.5 In some cases the income and resources
of non-recipients are counted in determining SSI eligibility and benefit amounts. This
process is called “deeming” and is applied in cases where an eligible child lives with an
ineligible parent, an eligible individual lives with an ineligible spouse, or an eligible
non-citizen has a sponsor.6 In general, SSI beneficiaries can have assets, with the
exception of their home and car, worth no more than $2,000 and beneficiary couples can
have countable assets worth no more than $3,000.7
Funding. Federal SSI benefits and administrative costs are paid from federal
general revenues and state supplements are paid from state funds. In FY2007, the SSA
spent an estimated $39.46 billion on the SSI program, including an estimated $36.84
billion in federal benefit payments. Funding for the SSI program is provided by Congress
in the annual Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related
Agencies appropriations bill.
4 See CRS Report RL33340, Cash and Noncash Benefits for Persons with Limited Income:
Eligibility Rules, Recipient and Expenditure Data, FY2002-2004, by Karen Spar.
5 See CRS Report RS20294, SSI Income and Resource Limits: A Fact Sheet, by Scott
6 See CRS Report RL33675, Potential Effect of Marriage on Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Eligibility and Benefits, by Scott Szymendera.
7 See CRS Report RS22512, Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Accounts Not Counted As
Resources, by Scott Szymendera.
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