SSI Income and Resource Limits: A Fact Sheet

SSI Income and Resource Limits:
A Fact Sheet
Scott Szymendera
Analyst in Disability Policy
Domestic Social Policy Division
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, authorized by Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, is a means-tested income assistance program financed from general
tax revenues.1 Under SSI, disabled, blind, or aged individuals who have low incomes and
limited resources are eligible for benefits regardless of their work histories. In October
2007, nearly 7.4 million individuals received 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 per month for a couple living independently in 2008. All
but six states and the Commonwealth of the 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.
For SSI recipients who live in another person’s household (and receive in-kind
support and maintenance), the federal benefit rate is reduced by one-third (to $423.67 per
month for an individual and $637.34 per month for a couple in 2008). Individuals who
reside in public institutions throughout a month are generally not eligible for SSI.2
Benefits are adjusted annually (in January) using the Consumer Price Index to reflect
changes in the cost of living. Most SSI recipients are also eligible for Medicaid and Food
Stamps. In some cases, the income and resources of non-recipients are counted in
determining SSI eligibility and payment 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.
Verification Procedure. When applying for SSI, an individual must provide
documentation to verify income and resource eligibility, such as a Social Security card or
record of a Social Security number; a birth certificate or other proof of age; a copy of a
mortgage or lease and landlord’s name; payroll slips, bank records, insurance policies, car

1 This report is based upon the previous work of April Grady, Rachel Kelly, and Jennifer Lake.
2 The federal benefit rate for individuals who reside in a medical treatment facility where more
than half of the bill is paid by Medicaid (or, in the case of children, private health insurance) is
reduced to $30 per month.

registration, and other income information; medical information if applying for disability;
and proof of immigration status (if not a U.S. citizen).
Income Limits and Exclusions. Two types of income are considered for
purposes of determining SSI eligibility and payment amounts: earned and unearned.
Earned income includes wages, net earnings from self-employment, and earnings from
services performed. Most other income not derived from current work (including Social
Security benefits, other government and private pensions, veterans’ benefits, workers’
compensation, and in-kind support and maintenance) is considered “unearned.” In-kind
support and maintenance includes food, clothing, or shelter that is given to an individual.
If an individual (or a couple) meets all other SSI eligibility requirements (including the
resource test described below), their monthly SSI payment equals the federal benefit rate
minus their countable income.
Not all income is counted for SSI purposes, and different exclusions apply to earned
and unearned income. Monthly unearned income exclusions include a general income
exclusion of $20 per month that applies to non needs-based income, food stamps, housing
and energy assistance, state and local needs-based assistance, in-kind support and
maintenance from non-profit organizations, student grants and scholarships used for
educational expenses, and income used to fulfill a plan for achieving self-support (PASS).
Monthly earned income exclusions include any unused portion of the $20 general income
exclusion, the first $65 of earnings, one-half of earnings over $65, impairment-related
expenses for blind and disabled workers, and income used to fulfill a PASS. Couples
receive the same income exclusions as individuals (e.g., a single earned income exclusion
of $65, rather than two $65 exclusions).
Resource Limits and Exclusions. An individual’s resources are also examined
to determine eligibility for SSI. Regulations define a resource as cash or other liquid
assets or personal property that individuals (or their spouses) own and could convert to
cash to be used for their support and maintenance. The countable resource limit for SSI
eligibility is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples. These limits are not indexed
for inflation and have been at their current levels since 1989. Not all resources are
counted for SSI purposes. Excluded resources include an individual’s home, a car used
for essential transportation (or, if not essential, up to $4,500 of its current value),
resources to fulfill a PASS, property essential to income-producing activity, household
goods and personal effects totaling $2,000 or less, burial funds of $1,500 or less, and life
insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,500 or less.
Treatment of Assets Held in Trusts. Generally, assets held in a trust that could
be used for the benefit of an individual are considered a resource for SSI purposes. The
Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-169) changed the status of irrevocable
trusts for SSI benefit calculations. Before its passage, assets placed in irrevocable trusts
were not considered assets when determining benefit eligibility. P.L. 106-169 changed
SSI eligibility requirements so that the value of income and resources from both
irrevocable and revocable trusts are considered in determining eligibility and payment
amounts. However, the Commissioner of Social Security may waive this provision if it
would cause undue hardship for certain individuals.