An Overview of Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

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Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Social Security program that gives monthly financial assistance to people who qualify. Unlike other Social Security programs, SSI is based on financial need and either age or disability, not work history. If you qualify for SSI, you might also qualify for other benefits.

Getting approved for benefits can be a long and complex process. If you think you should be getting benefits, apply as soon as possible.

Qualifying for SSI Benefits

To qualify for SSI benefits, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be disabled, blind, or age 65 or older

  • Be a U.S. citizen (some exceptions may apply)

  • Live in the U.S.

  • Not leave the U.S. for more than a month

  • Meet the income and resource limits

To learn more about this, review the "Who Is Eligible For SSI?" section of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website.

Making a Disability Determination

The SSA works with Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices in Michigan when reviewing disability claims. DDS has doctors and disability specialists working for it. When you file a disability claim, DDS employees contact the medical professionals treating you. They ask about your condition and your ability to work. The SSA and DDS use the information they get to decide if you are disabled.

There is a five-step process to decide if you are disabled. DDS will go through all five steps. To learn more, read Disability Determination Process on the SSA website.

Applying for SSI Benefits

If you are under 65, you can apply online at the SSA website. No matter how old you are, you can set up an appointment to apply at a local SSA office. If you would like to apply at an SSA office, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to set up an appointment. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.

Documents You Will Need

Before applying, it is a good idea to have the following information ready:

  • A Social Security card or record of your Social Security number

  • A birth certificate or proof of your age

  • Information about your home, like your mortgage or lease

  • Information about your income, like pay stubs or bank books

  • Information about other things you own, like insurance policies

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship

  • Your checkbook or other papers that show your bank account number

  • If you are applying due to a disability or blindness, you will need the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of doctors, hospitals, or clinics that have treated you.

When you apply for SSI benefits, you must give the SSA permission to contact any bank or credit union and request any financial records they may have about you.

To learn more about the application process, review the "How Do I Apply For SSI" section of the SSA website.

When you apply for SSI, you may also want to apply for State Disability Assistance (SDA). To learn more about SDA, visit State Disability Assistance (SDA).

Appealing a Decision about Your SSI Benefits

You can appeal most decisions the SSA makes about your SSI benefits. This includes initial benefit denials and changes to your existing benefits. When you appeal an SSA decision, the SSA will review all of the information in your file.

There are four levels of appeals:

  • Reconsideration (for disability claims other than initial denials)

  • Administrative Law Judge hearing

  • Appeals Council review

  • Federal Court

If you decide to appeal, you may want to talk to a lawyer. If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.

To learn more about appeals, read The Appeals Process for Social Security Programs.

Receiving Your Benefits

Once your benefits are approved, the SSA will send you a letter telling you when your payments will start and how much you will receive each month. The first payment you receive will be for the first full month after you applied or became eligible for SSI benefits. The amount you receive every month may change due to changes in your income, resources, or living arrangements, or to keep up with cost of living increases. The highest federal monthly SSI payment in 2022 is $841 for individuals and $1,261 for married couples.

The first three months of payments you receive will be based on the income you had for the first full month after you became eligible. For example, if you became eligible for benefits in February, your March, April, and May payments will be based on the income you had in March.

Starting with the fourth month, your payments will usually be based on your income from two months before that month. Using the example above, your June payment will be based on your income from April.

If you receive income one month that you will not receive again (nonrecurring income), the SSA will take that into account. An example of nonrecurring income is winnings you get from a lottery scratch-off card. The SSA will count your winnings only once, and after that your payments should return to their regular amount.

In Michigan, you may qualify for more SSI benefits than the basic federal amount. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) manages benefit payments for people not living in nursing homes. Payments are made quarterly, based on the calendar year, by electronic payment. For people in nursing homes or other institutional settings, the SSA issues their payments monthly.

Electronic Payments

Generally, all SSI payments are made electronically. There are limited exceptions that could allow you to receive payments through paper checks. If you have questions about receiving paper checks, you can contact your local SSA office. Your local legal services office may also be able to help you. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and a legal services office in your area.

You will receive electronic payments on the first day of each month in one of the following ways:

  • Direct deposit – Payments deposited directly into your bank account

  • Direct Express® card program – Payments deposited directly onto a debit card provided by the SSA

  • Electronic Transfer Account – Payments deposited in a low-cost federal account at your local bank or credit union

You can schedule an appointment with the SSA to help you set up one of these options.

Returning Wrong Payments

Mistakes happen. If you receive more money than you are supposed to, you must return it. If you don’t, the SSA may recover the overpayment by reducing your benefit check or asking you to repay the money. You can call or visit your local SSA office for instructions on how to return an overpayment.

If you can't afford to repay all the money you owe at once, you can ask the SSA to lower the repayment rate using the Social Security Change in Repayment Rate tool. 

Reporting Changes That Might Affect Your Eligibility

If something happens that could affect your eligibility, contact the SSA as soon as possible. If you do not contact them, they can reduce or suspend your benefits when they learn about the change in your eligibility. You must report any changes within 10 days after the end of the month in which they occurred. If you do not contact the SSA within that time frame, they might penalize you by deducting $25 to $100 from your next payment. If you withhold information on purpose or give false information, the SSA could stop your benefits for 6 to 24 months.

Some examples of things you must report are:

  • Change of address

  • Change of living arrangements

  • Change in income

  • Change in resources

  • Change in citizenship, like renouncing your citizenship

  • Change in marital status

If you are disabled, you must also report improvements in your medical condition. If you are married, you must report changes in your spouse’s income. If the person receiving benefits is a child, then changes in the child’s parents’ income and resources must be reported. If you are a student between 18 and 24 years old, you must report if you start or stop going to school.

For a complete list of what changes you must report, visit SSI Reporting Responsibilities on the SSA website. If you need to tell the SSA about a change, you can use the tool Report Changes to Social Security

Reviewing Your SSI Case

The SSA routinely reviews all SSI cases. This is done to make sure people are getting their payments and they are getting the right amount. If you are receiving benefits because of a disability, the review will look at how likely it is that your condition will improve. Expect a review every:

  • 6 to 18 months if you are likely to improve

  • Three years if you could possibly improve

  • Seven years if you are not likely to improve

The SSA will tell you when your case will be reviewed and how they will conduct your review. The SSA will complete your review in person, by mail, or over the telephone. You will need to answer the same kinds of questions you answered in your original application. You might also have to submit information about your income and resources.

If you don’t agree with the review decision, you can appeal it. To learn more about appeals, read The Appeals Process for Social Security Programs.

Getting Other Public Benefits

If the SSA approves your application for SSI benefits, you automatically qualify for Medicaid. You may also qualify for other Social Security benefits.

When you apply for SSI, the person interviewing you should ask if you are currently getting food assistance (Food Stamps). If you are not currently getting Food Stamps, you can apply to get them during your SSI interview through the Michigan Combined Application Project (MiCAP). If you are eligible, you will get Food Stamps for a three-year period, after which you will need to recertify. MiCAP is only available when you apply for both SSI and Food Stamps at the same time.

To learn more about Food Stamps, visit Food Stamps (FAP)