What is SSI?

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SSI is the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income program. SSI provides monthly income for people who meet Social Security’s rules for disability, and have limited income and resources.

Is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program the same in all states?

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No. The amount of SSI varies from state to state. Each state determines if it will supplement the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) provided by Social Security. The state of California provides a State Supplemental Payment (SSP). These amounts may be adjusted annually to account for cost of living changes.

What is the State Supplemental Payment (SSP)?

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This is the amount that a state may add to the national Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). California's State Supplemental Payment is $160.72. Combined with the Federal Benefit Rate of $735, this allows an individual a total benefit of $895.72. The FBR for a couple is $1,103, while the SSP for a couple is $407.14. The maximum benefit for a couple is $1,510.14.

Some states that provide a State Supplement Payment, including California, have arranged with Social Security to combine their supplemental payments with the federal payment. There are other states that provide State Supplemental Payments and manage their own programs. These states may require an additional application.

Do other benefits come along with SSI?

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Yes. In California, people who qualify for SSI also get Medi-Cal health coverage.

Does SSI get me access to health coverage?

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Yes. If you’re eligible for SSI, you’ll automatically get Medi-Cal— the federal Medicaid health coverage program in California.

Who is eligible for SSI?

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SSI is for people who:
  • Are disabled, blind, or over age 65
  • Have resources below $2,000 ($3,000 for an eligible couple)
  • Are unable to work very much because of disability
  • Have limited income
  • Are US citizens (or meet certain requirements for noncitizens).

To be eligible for SSI you must be medically disabled according to Social Security’s rules.

I’ve never had a job. Can I get SSI?

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Yes. You can be eligible for SSI if you have never worked.

How does Social Security define disability?

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To be eligible for SSI, you must show that you have a disability that prevents you from working. Social Security requires that:
  • You must be able to show medical reports that confirm that you have a severe physical or mental disability.
  • The disability must be life-threatening or have lasted or be expected to last at least a year.
  • The disability must prevent you from doing Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) for at least a year.

Does what I have in the bank, or the property I own, affect my eligibility for SSI?

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Yes. The SSI program has very strict limits on how much money you can have and on what you own. You are allowed to have resources of up to $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple) under the program.

The home you live in, and one car that you own and use to get to work or medical appointments, are not included in those limits. Certain other resources are also not included.

Note: If your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where over time you can save up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Do I have to be a US citizen to get SSI?

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Not necessarily. To qualify for SSI, you must be a US citizen or a qualified alien. Some important categories of qualified aliens include people who are:
  • Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the U.S.
  • Refugees admitted to the US under Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Granted asylum under section 208 of the INA

Qualified aliens must also meet certain other conditions to be eligible for SSI.

Some groups of immigrants and refugees will only be able to get SSI for seven years after their date of entry into the US. If they think they will continue to need SSI, they need to become US citizens before that time is up. If you are unsure of your immigration status or how it affects SSI, you should talk to Social Security or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. See the Social Security Administration's website for more information.

How can I apply for SSI?

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You can apply for SSI benefits:
  • At your local Social Security Office.
  • By telephone with Social Security. Call 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY). You can apply by phone or set up an appointment to apply in person. Papers will be mailed to you to fill out.

Once I apply, how long will it take to get my SSI benefits?

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The SSI application process can take from 3 to 6 months to complete, once Social Security has everything they need to make a decision. If you’re approved, Social Security will send you a check for back benefits going back to the date you applied. That’s why it is important to apply as soon as you can.

Can I get other help while waiting on my SSI application?

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Your county social services agency may be able to help you get CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) and health coverage through Medi-Cal. There may be other help available if you have minor children living with you.

I was denied for SSI. Is there anything I can do?

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Yes. You don’t have to accept Social Security’s decision. If you feel that the decision is unfair or incorrect, you have the right to file an appeal.

You have 60 days from when you get the denial letter to file an appeal. Do it quickly; the faster you file, the faster your case will be resolved. If you miss the 60-day window, you may lose the right to appeal at all. Note: Social Security figures that you get a letter within five days after they sent it.

To file an appeal, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and ask them to send you an SSI appeal form. You can also request your appeal using this online form.

When you file an appeal, you can send more information that will help explain your case.

You have the right to have a lawyer or other qualified person represent you during the appeal process. Or you may choose to deal with it yourself.

How long can I continue to get SSI benefits?

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You’ll keep getting SSI benefits as long as you are still disabled and meet the income, resource, and other eligibility requirements.

From time to time, Social Security will check to make sure that you still qualify. A medical Continuing Disability Review (CDR) looks at whether you are still medically disabled. A redetermination looks at your income, resources, and living arrangements.

How does my income affect my SSI benefits?

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If you have income from other sources, your SSI benefit will get smaller. Social Security treats income from some sources differently than income from other sources. Your SSI benefit is reduced by the amount of your countable income, which depends on your earned and unearned income.
  • Earned income is money you get from work you do. It includes salaries, wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees or other amounts you get in exchange for physical or mental work you actually do.

    If you’re self-employed, you subtract your work expenses before reporting your earned income, the way you do when you file your taxes.
  • Unearned income is anything else: It's money you get for which you do no work. Examples include disability benefits such as SSDI; short or long-term disability insurance; VA benefits; Workers’ Compensation; income from a trust or investment; dividends, profits; or any other money gotten from a source other than work.

Social Security’s countable income calculation is described in detail here.

What happens to my SSI benefits if I move into a nursing home or other medical facility?

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People who live in medical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes generally can’t collect full SSI benefits.
  • If you are living in a medical facility where Medi-Cal pays for more than half the cost of your care, your SSI benefits amount is at most $50/month, depending on other income you get.
  • If you live in a public facility and Medi-Cal is not paying for more than half of your care, you may not be eligible to get any SSI benefits.
  • If your doctor says you will be in the facility for less than 90 days, and you can show that you need your SSI benefits to keep your home or living arrangement, you may continue to get your SSI benefits.

If your medical stay is less than 90 days and you need your SSI benefits to maintain your house or apartment, you need to get your doctor’s note and documentation about your need to Social Security right away. The facility’s admissions office can help you.

What should I do if my income or living arrangements change?

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You need to report the changes. Your monthly SSI benefits amount depends on your:

If any of these things change, even slightly, you must immediately report the change within 10 days to your local Social Security office. It’s important to report changes right away to avoid an overpayment.

What can I do if I disagree with an overpayment notice?

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If you were overpaid but feel that it wasn’t your fault, and you can’t pay back the overpayment because you need the money to pay living expenses, you can ask for a waiver of the overpayment. You can get the waiver form by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and asking for form SSA-632. If the waiver is granted, you don’t have to repay the overpayment.

Social Security may make a mistake or make a decision without knowing all the facts. If you think the amount of your overpayment is incorrect or that you do not have any overpayment, you have the right to appeal. If you decide to appeal, you should do so right away. If you appeal within 10 days of the date the notice was sent, your checks will keep coming until Social Security decides on the appeal.

What happens to my SSI if I go back to work?

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Income from work raises your countable income, which lowers your SSI benefits. Roughly speaking, for every $2 you earn at work, your SSI to go down by $1. That’s why most people on SSI who go back to work end up better off. Read DB101’s page on SSI and Work for more information.

Does my health coverage change when I go back to work?

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If you’re on SSI and go back to work, your Medi-Cal coverage can continue even after your earnings have reduced your SSI benefits amount to zero. Depending on your income and resource levels, Medi-Cal coverage can continue either through SSI’s 1619(b) work incentive or through Medi-Cal's Working Disabled Program.

What happens if I go to work, lose my SSI benefits, and then find I can’t work anymore?

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If you find yourself without work, you may be able to get your SSI benefits restarted quickly without having to file a new application.

If you are 1619(b) eligible and you stop working, you will be able to get your SSI benefits restarted quickly without having to file a new application or wait for a medical review.

This quick restart is called Expedited Reinstatement (EXR).You can request Expedited Reinstatement if:

  • Your SSI benefits amount went to zero because of any combination of earned income and unearned income;
  • You can’t work at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level because of your disability;
  • Your current medical impairment is the same as the one that originally made you eligible for SSI; and
  • Your benefits have been stopped for less than 5 years.

If you get EXR, you can get up to 6 months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security looks at your medical records.

I’m on both SSI and SSDI. How do these programs work together?

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You can be on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) at the same time if your SSDI benefits are low enough. Benefits from SSDI and many other sources are counted as unearned income when calculating your SSI benefits. After the first $20, every dollar in unearned income makes your SSI benefits amount go down by a dollar.