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What is SSI?

Posted by attorney Ruthann Lacey

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal welfare benefit available to individuals who are disabled such that they cannot work, and who have limited income and resources. It was established to provide cash assistance to financially needy individuals who are age 65 or older, or blind, or disabled. This program assures such individuals a minimum level of income. To qualify to receive SSI benefits, an individual can have no more than $2,000 in countable assets. Additionally, an individual can own certain exempt assets such as a home place, limited household goods, a car, certain life insurance, burial spaces, and a certificate of deposit worth up to $1,500 designated for funeral expenses. For the year 2010, to be eligible for SSI benefits an individual's countable income cannot exceed $674 a month. The Social Security Administration defines income as anything an individual receives in cash or in kind that can be used to meet that individual's need for food and shelter. This definition includes gifts and inheritances, as well as any in-kind support that an individual might receive, such as free room and board. To illustrate how SSI works, consider the following example. If an individual who is 65 or older, or blind, or disabled has countable monthly income of $300 and has no more than $2,000 in countable assets, he would be eligible to receive SSI benefits. Each month (after excluding the first $20 of income as allowed by SSI) he would receive a cash benefit of $374 from SSI, bringing his total monthly income to $674. Some states have a state supplement that is added to the $674. An individual who is eligible for SSI benefits and who is working must report his employment income to SSI. The Social Security Administration then applies a formula to determine how much of the employment income will "count" when determining the SSI benefit the individual may be eligible to receive each month. In many states individuals who receive SSI are automatically eligible to receive Medicaid benefits immediately. Oftentimes the Medicaid benefit is more important than the SSI income, as Medicaid will pay for hospital and doctor bills, as well as prescription medications.

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