what are ssi benefits

what are ssi benefits

When it comes to government assistance programs, there are a lot of acronyms and terms that can be confusing. One of these is SSI, which stands for Supplemental Security Income. This program is designed to provide financial assistance to individuals who have limited income and resources due to a disability, age, or blindness. In this article, we will delve into the details of SSI benefits, including who is eligible, how to apply, and what benefits are available.

What is SSI?

SSI is a federal program that is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It was created in 1974 to replace state-run programs that provided financial assistance to low-income individuals. SSI is funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes, and is available to individuals who have not paid enough into the Social Security system to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Unlike SSDI, which is based on an individual’s work history and contributions to the Social Security system, SSI is a needs-based program. This means that eligibility is determined by an individual’s income and resources, rather than their work history. SSI benefits are also not limited to individuals with disabilities, as the program also provides assistance to elderly individuals (age 65 and older) and blind individuals.

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Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits?

In order to be eligible for SSI benefits, an individual must meet certain criteria set by the SSA. These criteria include:

  • Being at least 65 years old, blind, or disabled
  • Having limited income and resources
  • Being a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Residing in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands

Let’s take a closer look at each of these criteria.

Age, Blindness, or Disability

In order to be eligible for SSI benefits, an individual must be at least 65 years old, blind, or disabled. The SSA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that prevents an individual from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). This means that the individual is unable to work and earn a certain amount of income due to their disability.

Blindness is defined as having a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens, or having a visual field limitation in the better eye that is no greater than 20 degrees. The SSA also considers an individual to be blind if they have a visual impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

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Income and Resources

In order to qualify for SSI benefits, an individual must have limited income and resources. The SSA defines income as any money that an individual receives, including wages, Social Security benefits, and pensions. Resources, on the other hand, are things that an individual owns, such as cash, bank accounts, and property. The SSA has strict limits on the amount of income and resources an individual can have and still be eligible for SSI benefits.

For 2021, the income limit for SSI is $794 per month for individuals and $1,191 per month for couples. This includes both earned income (wages) and unearned income (such as Social Security benefits). The resource limit for individuals is $2,000, and for couples, it is $3,000. However, not all resources are counted towards this limit, such as a primary residence and one vehicle.

Citizenship and Residency

In order to be eligible for SSI benefits, an individual must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen. Eligible non-citizens include lawful permanent residents, refugees, and individuals granted asylum. In addition, the individual must reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands. Individuals who are incarcerated or living in a public institution are not eligible for SSI benefits.

Read:How long do unemployment benefits typically last?

How to Apply for SSI Benefits

If you believe you are eligible for SSI benefits, you can apply online, by phone, or in person at your local Social Security office. The application process can be lengthy and may require you to provide documentation of your income, resources, and disability. It is important to have all necessary documents and information ready when applying to avoid delays in the process.

Once your application is submitted, the SSA will review your information and make a decision on your eligibility. If you are approved for SSI benefits, you will receive a monthly payment to help cover your basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing.

What Benefits are Available through SSI?

SSI benefits are designed to provide financial assistance to individuals with limited income and resources. The amount of benefits an individual receives is based on their income and resources, as well as their living situation. For example, individuals who live in their own home or apartment may receive a higher benefit amount than those who live in a group home or with family members.

In addition to the monthly cash benefit, SSI recipients may also be eligible for other benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. These benefits can help cover the cost of healthcare, groceries, and housing, making it easier for individuals to meet their basic needs.

Case Study: John’s Experience with SSI Benefits

John is a 35-year-old man who has been unable to work due to a severe back injury. He has limited income and resources and is struggling to make ends meet. After doing some research, John learns about SSI benefits and decides to apply. He gathers all necessary documents and submits his application online.

After a few weeks, John receives a letter from the SSA stating that he has been approved for SSI benefits. He is relieved and grateful for the financial assistance, as it will help cover his basic needs and allow him to focus on his recovery without worrying about his finances.

In addition to the monthly cash benefit, John also qualifies for Medicaid, which helps cover the cost of his medical treatments and medications. This allows him to receive the necessary care without worrying about the high costs.

Statistics on SSI Benefits

According to the SSA, as of December 2020, there were over 8 million individuals receiving SSI benefits. Of these, 86% were individuals with disabilities, 13% were individuals age 65 and older, and 1% were blind individuals. The average monthly benefit amount for individuals was $585, and for couples, it was $877.

Furthermore, the SSA reports that the majority of SSI recipients are women (55%) and that the program provides benefits to individuals in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.


SSI benefits are an important source of financial assistance for individuals with limited income and resources. This program helps individuals with disabilities, elderly individuals, and blind individuals meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life. If you believe you may be eligible for SSI benefits, it is important to research the program and apply as soon as possible. With the right documentation and information, you can receive the financial assistance you need to live a more comfortable and secure life.

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