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An Overview of Supplemental Security Income (SSI)


    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 qualifying for SSI, read Qualifying for Supplemental Security Income Benefits (coming soon).

    Applying for SSI Benefits

    You can apply online at the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website or 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, read Applying for Supplemental Security Income Benefits (coming soon).

    When you apply for SSI, you may also want to apply for 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 need a lawyer and are low-income, you may qualify for free legal help. Use Find a Lawyer to find lawyers and legal services in your area.

    To learn more about appeals, read The Appeals Process for Social Security Programs (coming soon).

    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 2017 is $735 for individuals and $1,103 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 from 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 Find a Lawyer to find lawyers and legal services 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.

    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 $25.00 to $100.00 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

    For a complete list of what changes you must report, visit SSI Reporting Responsibilities on the SSA website.

    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.

    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 (coming soon).

    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, go to the I Need Food Stamps (FAP) toolkit.