How to Qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – Disability

The Federal Government has provided a small monthly benefit – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to a certain group of people who are struggling with disability, age, and finances. This benefit is managed through the Social Security Administration and is available to a person in financial distress who have a disability or are over 65 and disabled. It is paid for by general tax revenues and does not come out of the Social Security Fund or Trust Fund.

Everything You Need To Know to Qualify for Supplemental Security Income

Originally designed to assist those who are blind, aged and/or disabled and who have no income or very little. It is meant to provide a basic income for food, shelter and clothing for disabled adults and children. The ABLE Program has recently been added. We will cover this later.

SSI Qualifications

Those who might meet SSI eligibility requirements would include:

  • Those who meet SSI Income Limitations.
  • Those who meet SSI requirements for Financial Resources.
  • Adults who are blind or disabled or over 65.
  • Children who are disabled or blind.

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In essence, to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income, you must be both without adequate financial support and be by definition completely disabled. This means in order to qualify you not only have to meet the SSI Income Limitations. You also must meet the SSI Disability qualifications showing that due to your disability you are unable to work in any job.

SSI Income Limitations and Financial Resource Restrictions

It is easy to understand the Financial Resources end of this equation when attempting to decide if you meet the SSI guidelines. It is pretty straightforward.

  • Not counting any funds that might be in an ABLE account, an individual must have financial assets that are less than $2000.
  • Not counting any funds that might be in ABLE accounts, a married couple must have financial assets that are less than $3000.

Financial Assets are defined as anything you have of value such as checking accounts, savings accounts, 401k Accounts, IRAs, any retirement accounts, annuities, any vehicle beyond one for transportation, and life insurance with a cash out value, any other property beyond the home you live in and jewelry or anything else that has any substantial value.

SSI Income Limitations are harder to understand as they do not follow the meaning of income like most of us understand it. The income limit is governed by the Federal Benefit Rate or FBR. The current Federal Benefit Rate is $750 for an individual per month and $1125 for a couple per month.

What counts as income is somewhat complicated. It is easier to look at it in terms of what does NOT count as income. The first $20 of income is not counted; the Earned Income Exclusion lowers the wages that are counted; Tax refunds are not counted; SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) are not counted; loans that you have to repay are not counted; other public benefits based on need are not counted and impairment-related work expenses are not counted – for instance, the cost of special transportation to and from work.

The Earned Income Exclusions listed above further reduce the countable income. These exclusions include the first $65 earned and half of everything else earned over $65. This means that the limit one could earn in 2018 and still meet SSI requirements would be $1500. The Social Security Administration would exclude the first $20 as noted above and then the next $65. A person making $1500 would at this point have a countable income of $1415. Then the Social Security Administration would exclude half of all remaining wages making the countable income equal $707.50. This makes the individual eligible for SSI because their income is under $750.

Your countable income is subtracted from the $750 to tabulate your benefit which would be $44.50. Remember all those things that didn’t count as income before the Earned Income Exclusions even apply. If you are under 22, disabled and a student then almost $7000 of your annual income is excluded and not counted toward your eligibility. You can see how complicated this might be for an individual to discern on their own.

If I want to see how to qualify for SSI and I know my assets are under $2000, I would first subtract those things that don’t count such as taxes, first $20, etc. from my total income. Then I would calculate any additional Earned Income Exclusions toward my countable income and subtract that as well to get my total countable income. This must be under $750 for me to qualify as an individual.
The Social Security Administration will then subtract my countable income from the FBR or Social Security Federal Benefit Rate of $750 to determine my monthly benefit from SSI.
This is so complicated many people turn to attorneys who specialize in Social Security Disability and SSI applications.

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SSI Disability Qualifications

The other side of this equation obviously is the need to meet the SSI eligibility requirements on the disability side. If you are not blind and under the age of 65, then you must have a qualifying disability to receive an SSI check. A qualifying disability in this respect is the same as it is for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits or SSDI. The basic rule of thumb is you must have a condition of the Social Security Administrations List of Impairments and/or you must have a completely disabling condition that would not allow you to work in any type of job for at least twelve months. When applying for Supplement Security Income with a disability you will need proof of that disability and your inability to work for at least one year.

Those who receive SSI due to a disability will have a medical review periodically to determine if you can return to work. How often this happens depends upon the severity of your condition and how likely it is to improve. The SSA has three levels of severity that dictate how often you have a medical review. They are:

  • Improvement Expected – Medical review in 6 to 18 months from the start of SSI.
  • Improvement Possible – Medical review every 3 years from the start of SSI
  • Improvement Not Expected – Medical review every 5 to 7 years.

Note: Blind children and disabled children who have parents with little resources and little income might also be eligible for SSI benefits also.

ABLE – Achieving a Better Life Experience

One additional note while you are exploring how to get SSI benefits. In 2014 Congress passes the act creating the ABLE program. This program lets people with disabilities establish what is called an ABLE account, a tax-free savings account that does not impact their SSDI benefits.

To qualify for an ABLE account one must be:

  • Eligible for SSI due to blindness or disability before age of 26
  • Eligible for SSDI

If you are eligible for an ABLE account you can only have one account. Anyone can put funds into the account. Only you are the beneficiary of these funds and there is a limit of $14,000 placed in the account each year. The account can then be used to supplement payments for expenses related to their disability but could include: transportation, education expenses, housing, medical/health, employment training/support, assistive technology and services, legal, financial/administrative services, ABLE oversight/management, burial expense, basic living expenses.

When determining the effect of an ABLE account on SSI, the first $100,000 is not counted. Only anything over $100,000 counts as an asset.

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