Glossary: Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Rules that allow Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients to keep their SSI benefit at a lower level when they return to work.

A rule that lets people who stop getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to work income keep their Medi-Cal health coverage while earning up to $58,638 per year. 1619(b) also makes it easier to get SSI benefits started up again if your countable income goes below SSI's income limit. For 1619(b), you must continue to meet other SSI eligibility rules, such as the resource limit.

Note: If your earnings are over this limit and you have high medical expenses, you might still qualify for 1619(b). Ask your local Social Security office about the 1619(b) Individualized Earnings Threshold.

A trained expert who can help you understand and apply for benefit programs. Their goal is to help you develop a plan for your future and organize your financial life to run as smoothly as possible.

  • For questions about work and your Social Security benefits, use Social Security's "Find Help" tool to locate a WIPA project near you. You can also call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 / 1-866-833-2967 (TTY/TDD). The Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) also has Work Incentives Planners (WIPs).
  • If you need assistance with your Medicare, the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program can help. HICAP provides free information and counseling to people with Medicare. You can call HICAP at 1-800-434-0222 or visit the HICAP website.
  • If you need assistance with Medi-Cal and have a disability, you can contact Disability Rights California at 1-800-776-5746 or visit their website. You may also be able to get help with Medi-Cal from a local legal aid organization. The Health Consumer Alliance website has a lot of useful information about Medi-Cal, including a web page that can direct you to a local legal organization for assistance.
  • If you have questions or need assistance with a program or benefit not listed here, contact an Independent Living Center. Independent Living Centers provide peer support and information on a wide range of topics for people with disabilities.

A report that summarizes your current Social Security disability benefits and available work incentives. To order one, visit your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213 (voice); 1-800-325-0778 (TTY). Be sure to review your BPQY carefully. If you have questions about it, contact a benefits planner or Social Security.

Tip: The BPQY is form number SSA-2459. If a Social Security Claims Representative does not know what a BPQY is, mention the form number.

Documented expenses for services or items that you need in order to work. Service animal expenses, transportation to and from work, and visual and sensory aids are examples of BWEs. You must be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on blindness to use BWEs.

For more information, refer to the Social Security Red Book, Special Rules for Persons who are Blind.

Eyesight that is very limited. To be considered legally blind, you must:

  • Have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in your better eye, even while you are wearing a correcting contact lens or glasses in that eye; or
  • Have a limitation in the field of vision of your better eye, so that:
    • You have a contraction of peripheral visual fields to 10 degrees from the point of fixation, or
    • The widest diameter of your visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees, or
    • You have a contraction of peripheral visual fields to 20% or less visual field efficiency.

Social Security and other agencies use this definition of blindness to decide if you qualify for benefits programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Some people with vision impairments that do not meet these standards may still qualify for benefits.

The Social Security publication that provides detailed information about disability programs to physicians and other health care professionals. The Blue Book includes the complete Listing of Impairments, which lists and defines those conditions considered severe enough to prevent a person from doing any gainful activity. The Blue Book can now be accessed online.

The month a benefits program looks at when it decides if you qualify and what you get in benefits. Programs look at your income and resources from the budget month.

The budget month may be the same as the current month, one month before the current month, or two months before the current month. Which month a program looks at depends on the program rules and your situation.

Note: DB101 Estimators use the correct budget month for each month and program.

Budget month examples from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program
  • If you have been getting SSI benefits for more than two months, the amount you get is usually based on your income from two months ago.
  • If you don't get SSI benefits, but your countable income drops below SSI's income limit, you might not have to wait two months to start qualifying for SSI. Instead, your first month of SSI benefits may be based on your income from the current month.
  • Usually, the second month of SSI benefits are based on income from one month ago.
  • If you have been getting SSI benefits for a while, but then your income goes over SSI's income limit, you don't still qualify for SSI benefits. Your benefits eligibility is based on your income from the current month.

Assuming they meet all other eligibility criteria, U.S. citizens and Qualified Aliens (inlcuding those who meet I-551 or I-94 status) are eligible for both Social Security and state public benefits programs.

Legal residents who don't have I-551 or I-94 status may be eligible for some state programs, but not for Social Security programs. This could include Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), refugees, asylees, conditional entrants, people certified as victims of trafficking, certain people whose immigration status is pending, people under Temporary Protected or Family Unity Beneficiary Status, Lawful Temporary Residents, applicants for asylum, people who have been granted or are applying for withholding of removal, and all other people with a lawfully residing immigrant status.

People who are undocumented or non-immigrants are eligible for fewer programs.

A periodic review to determine if there has been any medical improvement in your condition and/or to determine whether you continue to be eligible for Social Security benefits for other reasons. The two types of reviews are called a medical CDR and a work CDR.

Having cooking facilities means that you have a refrigerator and at least 2 burners. Hotplates count as burners if they have temperature controls. You can substitute a microwave oven for one of the burners or hotplates.

Countable earned income is the portion of your earned income that is counted by a benefits program. Earned income includes salaries, wages, tips, and any other money that you receive as pay for work that you do.

For example, the SSI program uses a special calculation to determine your countable earned income, your total countable income, and ultimately, your SSI benefit.

The amount of income that Social Security or the state counts when figuring out if you qualify for benefits and, if so, the level of benefits you should get. Not all of your income counts.

Example: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) counts most unearned income, but a bit less than half of earned income. So, if you have $500 in unearned income and $500 in earned income, your countable income for SSI would be just $697.50, even though your total income would be $1,000. Other programs, such as disability-based Medi-Cal and Medicare Savings Programs often use calculations similar to SSI's.

The calculation used to determine how much of your unearned and earned income is counted when determining your SSI benefit and eligibility.

Step 1: If you have unearned income (for example, an SSDI benefit), subtract a $20 "General Income Exclusion" from it to calculate your countable unearned income. If you do not have unearned income, this exclusion is applied to any earned income.

Step 2: If you have earned income (for example, wages), subtract a $65 "Earned Income Exclusion" from it (along with the remainder of the $20 "General Income Exclusion" that you have not applied to Unearned Income), along with any Impairment Related Work Expenses, and divide the resulting figure by two to find your countable earned income. If you have Blind Work Expenses, subtract them after you divide.

Step 3: Add your countable unearned income to your countable earned income to find your total countable income.

Example: If you have $500 in unearned income and $500 in earned income ($1,000 total), your countable income for SSI would be: $480 in countable unearned income + $217.50 in countable earned income = $697.50.

Resources are things you own, like a home or car. To be eligible for SSI, you can only have up to $2,000 in resources ($3,000 for a couple).

When determining whether or not you qualify for SSI, Social Security excludes certain resources from your countable resource total. Your home and one car do not count as resources, for example. Income received from Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), Child Tax Credits (CTC), CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps), grants, scholarships, fellowships, gifts, property essential to self-support, Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and many other items may be excluded as well. Additionally, for SSI, the first $100,000 in an ABLE account are not countable resources.

Countable unearned income is the portion of your unearned income that is counted by a benefits program. Funds received from sources for which no paid work activity is performed are considered "unearned income" (for example, disability benefits such as SSDI, SSI, short- and long-term disability insurance; VA benefits; Workers' Compensation; income from a trust or investment; spousal support).

For example, the SSI program uses a special calculation to determine your countable earned and unearned income, your total countable income, and ultimately, your SSI benefit.

The amount of another person’s income (a spouse or parent, for example) that is considered to belong to the individual regardless of whether the person receives this money.

Rules used by Social Security and Medi-Cal that determine an individual’s eligibility when living with a non-disabled spouse. If the individual is a minor, deeming rules apply to the parents.

The inability to engage in any Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) due to any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

A person must not only be unable to do his/her previous work but cannot, considering age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of SGA which exists in the national economy. It doesn't matter whether such work exists in the immediate area, or whether a specific job vacancy exists, or whether the worker would be hired if he/she applied for work. The worker’s impairment(s) must be the primary reason for his/her inability to engage in SGA.

The evaluation process the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to decide whether a person's disability meets SSA’s disability criteria for disability-based benefits.

Salaries, wages, tips, professional fees, and other amounts you receive as pay for physical or mental work you perform. This can include things you get in exchange for work instead of wages, such as food, shelter, or other items. Funds received from any other source are not included. (Contrast: unearned income.)

$65 of earned income that is not considered when Social Security uses the SSI Countable Income Calculation to determine the benefit amount for a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiary. This $65 is in addition to the $20 general income exclusion, which may be earned or unearned income.

A married couple where the partners live together and both qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The maximum SSI benefits amount for an eligible couple is $2,022.83, which is only about 150% of the individual maximum of $1,182.94.

Note: If you live in the same household as somebody else and the two of you act as though you are married and present yourselves to the community as being married, Social Security will consider you a married couple for SSI purposes. This is often referred to as "holding out."

Note: For SSI, Social Security only recognizes same-sex couples as married if they are legally married under California law. (The rules are different for SSDI.)

A quicker way to get benefits restarted for individuals whose Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) ends due to employment. You get up to six months of benefits while SSA decides if you have medically improved or not. This provision is available for up to five years after your benefits end.

The amount that each individual in a household is responsible for spending each month on food and shelter. If you live alone, it is the full cost of food and shelter. If you live with others, it is an equal portion of the total food and shelter expenses. For example, if you and three other people live together and spend a total of $4,000 per month on rent, utilities, and food, a fair share for each of you would be $1,000.

For the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and some other programs, whether an adult pays the fair share of expenses may affect benefits eligibility or benefits amounts.

The national benefit amount, established by the Social Security Administration (SSA), for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients. For 2024, the FBR is $943 for an individual and $1,415 for a couple. Some states supplement this amount with additional payments for SSI beneficiaries.

The $20 of earned or unearned income that is not considered when determining the amount for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit.

Your earned income (before taxes and other deductions are made) plus your unearned income.

A person who has the legal authority and duty to care for another person.

A form for individuals with HIV/AIDS who are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The form requires physicians to identify whether an individual has one of the 41 opportunistic infections listed on the form, and to specify any "repeated manifestations" of other symptoms that restrict certain aspects of the individual's life.

Documented expenses for services or items that are related to a serious medical condition or impairment and needed in order to work. Wheelchairs, physician visits, copayments for prescriptions, and other medical expenses are some examples of IRWEs. The expenses must be verified by original receipts and canceled checks and approved by Social Security.

Money from salaries, wages, tips, disability benefits, investments, dividends, and funds received from any other source. Includes both earned and unearned income.

A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) term that describes food and/or shelter which is supplied or paid for by someone other than the SSI beneficiary. Shelter expenses can include rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, heating fuel, gas, electricity, water, sewer service, and garbage collection.

If you do not pay your fair share of food and/or shelter, your maximum possible SSI benefits amount may be reduced. Depending on your situation, your ISM may be calculated using SSI's Value of One-Third Reduction (VTR) rule or the Presumed Maximum Value (PMV) rule.

Note: ISM rules usually only apply to adults, not to children under 18 years old. For children, parent-to-child deeming rules usually apply instead.

The adjustment of payments when an individual is eligible for more than one benefit program.

Cash or other property which can be converted to cash within 20 days, excluding non-work days. Liquid assets include: checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual fund shares, promissory notes, mortgages, and life insurance policies.

The amount of income you have after certain amounts are subtracted from it.

The date, after reviewing an individual's medical records, that Social Security determines that a disability began. The date Social Security receives an application does not necessarily establish the onset date.

Payment that exceeds the approved benefit amount.

Social Security uses this as one measure of whether or not a beneficiary should receive an independent living benefit rate. A child is considered to be under "parental control" if their parent has the authority to make decisions on their behalf.

Social Security’s process of figuring out how much of parents’ income is used to pay for a child’s basic needs. Some of the parents' income may be considered the child's when determining whether or not the child is eligible for disability benefit programs.The amount of deemed income is subtracted from the benefit amount.

A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program that allows you to set aside income and assets for expenses related to a specific work goal. Income that you use for these expenses will not cause your SSI benefits to go down. Assets that you spend on PASS expenses won't count towards the SSI limit.

A PASS specialist can help you set up a Plan to Achieve Self-Support.

A status granted to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants who have a high chance of being found disabled according to Social Security Administration (SSA) standards. If the SSA finds you presumptively disabled, they will begin benefit payments while your application is still being reviewed.

The SSA may find you presumptively disabled if you meet the medical criteria of the Blue Book Listing of Impairments or if you have HIV/AIDS and meet the criteria of SSA Form 4814. In either case, you must also meet SSI financial requirements to be eligible for presumptive disability benefits.

Repayments of presumptive disability benefits are not required even if SSI benefits are ultimately denied.

Anything that you own and need to support yourself. If the Social Security Administration (SSA) approves the property that you claim is Property Essential to Self-Support (PESS), Social Security will not count these things as resources when figuring out if you are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Three types of property can be excluded as PESS:

  • Property that you use in a trade or business (for example, your inventory) or personal property you use for work as an employee (for example, tools or equipment)
  • Up to $6,000 of the value of nonbusiness property that you use to produce something that helps with your daily living (for example, land that you use to produce vegetables that you eat)
  • Up to $6,000 of the value of property if the property gives you a return of at least a 6% per year (for example, property you own and rent to someone else)

You must be using the property to support yourself or expect to start using it again within a reasonable period of time, usually 12 months.

A feature of the SSI program that makes it easy to restart your SSI benefit if you lost it because of work alone. If you are 1619(b) eligible and you stop working, you will be able to get your SSI benefit restarted quickly without having to file a new application or wait for medical review.

To be considered “regularly attending” school for the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), a student has to meet one of the following requirements:

  • Attend a college or university for at least eight hours a week under a semester or quarter system
  • Be in grades 7 - 12 for at least 12 hours a week
  • Be in a course of training (with shop practice) for at least 15 hours a week to prepare for a paying job
  • Be in a course of training (without shop practice) for 12 hours a week

In some circumstances, like illness or unavailability of transportation, students may be allowed to spend less time than indicated above and still be considered “regularly attending” for the purposes of the SEIE.

Agencies to which you need to report any changes in your income or living situation, if you get public benefits.

If you're on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY), or visit your local Social Security office, and ask what's the best way for you to report. Note: Reporting rules for SSI and SSDI are different and if you get both benefits, you must report income for them separately.

If you're on Medi-Cal or any other state health coverage or cash assistance program, report any changes in earnings to your county social services agency.

In addition to the home you live in and one car, there are several other resources that may be excluded when determining your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) countable resource total. Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), Child Tax Credits (CTC), CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps), grants, scholarships, fellowships, gifts, property essential to self-support, Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and many other items may be excluded. Additionally, for SSI, the first $100,000 in an ABLE account are not countable resources.

For more information, you can read the SSI Spotlight on Resources.

The maximum amount of resources you're allowed to own while maintaining eligibility for a particular disability benefits program. Most benefits programs do not count everything you own, including the home you live in and one car you own. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the first $100,000 in an ABLE account is not counted as resources. For Medi-Cal, CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps), and some other programs, none of the money in an ABLE account is counted.

Also called an "asset limit."

Cash or property that you own, can convert to cash, or can use to support yourself. Stocks, bonds, and savings accounts are a few examples of resources. The home you live in and the car you drive to work are exempt under most Social Security and state disability benefit programs. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the first $100,000 in an ABLE account is not counted as resources. For Medi-Cal, CalFresh, and some other programs, none of the money in an ABLE account is counted.

Also called "assets."

Payments made for the period between disability onset and application approval.

A rule that allows certain people to keep their Social Security benefits after being found to no longer be medically disabled. For Section 301 to apply, a person who gets benefits has to be participating in a Social Security approved employment support program, and participation in that program has to increase the likelihood that he or she will not need Social Security benefits after completing the program. Vocational rehabilitation and PASS are two examples of “Social Security approved employment support programs."

A federal government agency that runs important programs like:

Social Security offices also handle some aspects of Medicare.

To contact SSA, call 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) or visit your local Social Security office.

Visit the website.

Types of unearned income that do not affect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program eligibility or benefits amount. The main unearned income exclusions are:

  • The first $20 per month
  • Income set aside or being used for a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
  • State or locally funded assistance based on need
  • Rent subsidies under HUD programs
  • CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) and other food or meal programs, and
  • The first $60 of infrequent or irregularly received income in a quarter.

Social Security has a complete list of the types of unearned income that are not counted by the SSI program. Some of the SSI exclusions on the list are:

  • AmeriCorps programs
  • Burial Funds (Interest on Excluded)
  • Child Care Assistance Under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act
  • Department of Education (DE) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Student Assistance
  • Disaster Assistance
  • Educational Assistance
  • Energy Assistance
  • Federal Perkins Loan
  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
  • General Assistance
  • Gifts Occasioned by Death
  • Gifts of Domestic Travel Tickets
  • Grants, Scholarship, Fellowships, and Gifts
  • Home Energy Assistance
  • Home Produce
  • Housing Assistance
  • Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) (Demonstration Project)
  • Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) (TANF Funded)
  • Leveraging Educational Assistance Program (LEAP)
  • Low Income Energy Assistance
  • Pell Grants
  • Private Nonprofit Assistance
  • Refunds of Taxes Paid on Real Property or Food
  • Relocation Assistance
  • School Breakfasts
  • School Lunches
  • State Assistance Based on Need
  • Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)

A voluntary state supplement to the Federal Benefit Rate. The SSP in California is $239.94 for an individual and $607.83 for a couple.

An exclusion that allows most students to work without their SSI benefit decreasing. The SEIE lets you keep the first $2,290 in earnings each month without affecting the countable earned income calculation. But there is an annual cap of $9,230, so if you earn more than this in any given year, the income starts counting again.

The amount of monthly earned income that shows a person is doing significant work according to Social Security. People who cannot earn more than SGA due to their disabilities may be considered disabled by Social Security and other agencies that use Social Security’s definition of disability.

In 2024, SGA is $1,550 per month ($2,590 for people who are blind).

SGA levels for previous years:

Year Disabled, Non-blind Blind
2023 $1,470 $2,460
2022 $1,350 $2,260
2021 $1,310 $2,190
2020 $1,260 $2,110
2019 $1,220 $2,040
2018 $1,180 $1,970
2017 $1,170 $1,950
2016 $1,130 $1,820
2015 $1,090 $1,820
2014 $1,070 $1,800
2013 $1,040 $1,740
2012 $1,010 $1,690
2011 $1,000 $1,640
2010 $1,000 $1,640

Social Security lists the SGA levels for earlier years.

A Social Security Administration program that gives cash benefits to people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. The amount you get in SSI benefits is based on your financial need and your living situation. The maximum monthly SSI benefit is $1,182.94 for individuals and $2,022.83 for eligible couples.

A standard electronic form that indicates eligibility for the Ticket to Work Program.

A Social Security Administration (SSA) program that helps adults with disabilities prepare for, find, and keep jobs. To qualify, you must be 18 – 64 years old and currently be getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Ticket to Work offers free services, such as:

Learn more on the Ticket to Work website.

A person who is:

  • Born in one of the 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Swain’s Island
  • Born outside of the U.S. to at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen
  • Granted citizenship status by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

When applying for benefits, contact the agency you are applying to to find out what documents are acceptable for proving citizenship.

Funds received from sources for which no paid work activity is performed. Disability benefits such as SSDI, SSI, short-term disability insurance, and long-term disability insurance; VA benefits; Workers' Compensation; income from a trust or investment; spousal support; dividends, profits, or funds received from any source other than work are all usually considered unearned income.

Physical or mental activity that is actually performed and results in earned income.

Work incentives are rules that help people who get public benefits and work. They let people get a benefit while they're working, keep a benefit longer while they work, or get a benefit back quickly if it stops due to work.

All public benefits in California have work incentives, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, and Medi-Cal.