The SSI Benefit

Once you’ve shown that your disability keeps you from working, Social Security looks at the amount of money you have to pay for basic needs. SSI may be able to give you a monthly cash payment to help meet those needs. Californians who qualify for SSI benefits are also automatically enrolled in Medi-Cal health coverage. On this page we'll explain what the maximum possible benefit you could get is and also look at what things might cause you to get a higher or lower benefit.

Note: The SSI benefit in California is actually a combination of funds from the Social Security Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) and California's State Supplemental Program (SSP). In this article, whenever we talk about SSI, we actually are talking about the combined SSI and SSP benefits; even though the money comes from two different places, you'll only get one direct deposit each month into your bank account or Electronic Benefits Card (EBT).

The Maximum SSI Benefit

The goal of the SSI program is that you have the money you need to meet your basic needs. The amount of money that the SSI program figures you need depends on your living situation. Here we present the maximum possible benefit for people in different types of situations. We'll explain more about a few of these situations below.

Individual

Eligible Couple

Summary of Maximum SSI Benefits Available

Adults

$931.72

$1,564.14

Adults living in the household of another

$678.24

$1,183.75

Blind adults $988.23 $1,715.19
Blind adults living in the household of another $734.76 $1,334.80
Under 18, living alone, with parents, or with relatives $836.15 Does not apply
Under 18, living in somebody else's household $582.67 Does not apply

Note: These are not all of the situations that could affect your benefit amount. Some of the other things that could impact it include things like:

  • Whether the place you live has a kitchen
  • Whether you live in a certified or non-certified medical facility
  • Who pays the expenses of the private medical facility where you live

Social Security maintains a complete listing of California maximum monthly payments for different situations.

Situations that Can Change the Maximum Benefit

As we just saw, if you’re a person who lives alone, the maximum SSI benefit is $931.72 ($988.23 if you're blind). The maximum is different if you are an eligible couple, if you live in someone else’s household and you don’t pay the full costs of food and shelter, or if you live in an institution, such as a hospital, nursing home, or prison.

Couples

Social Security calls you part of an eligible couple if:

  • You are married; and
  • You are living with your spouse; and
  • Both you and your spouse are eligible for SSI benefits.

Note: If two people live in the same household, act as if they are married, and present themselves to the community as being married, Social Security will consider them a married couple for SSI purposes.

Social Security figures that two people who live together can live cheaper than two people who live separately, so the maximum SSI benefits amount for a couple is $1,564.14 (which is only about 170% of the individual maximum of $931.72). The maximum for a couple where both people are blind is $1,715.19.

If you’re married and living with your spouse, but your spouse is not eligible for SSI benefits, then Social Security thinks that some of your spouse’s income must be available to help pay for basic needs. The process of deciding how your spouse’s income should affect your SSI benefits is called spousal deeming.

If you’re not married or are not living with your spouse, Social Security treats you as separate people when calculating your benefits.

Living in Somebody Else's Home

If you live in your own place and pay for your own food and shelter, you can get up to $931.72 per month ($988.23 if blind). It doesn’t matter if you own or rent your place.

If you live in someone else’s household, but pay for your own food and shelter, you can still get up to $931.72 per month ($988.23 if blind).

But if you live in someone else’s household, and somebody else is paying for some or all of your food and shelter costs, Social Security reduces the maximum benefits amounts you can get. This is because Social Security considers the help you are getting to have value, meaning you need less help from SSI. The maximum SSI benefit in this situation is $678.24 ($734.76 if you're blind).

Shelter can include any of the normal costs of keeping a place to live: rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, heating fuel, gas, electricity, water, sewer service, and garbage collection.

Note: If the other person who supplies you with food and shelter is your spouse who lives with you, that help is not considered in this way. Instead, some of your spouse’s income is deemed to be available to you.

Example

Ruggero lives in his uncle’s house and gets SSI benefits. His uncle gives him 3 meals a day and charges Ruggero no rent. Because Ruggero is getting help with both his food and his rent from somebody living in the same house, Ruggero does not get the full $931.72 monthly SSI benefit. His benefit is reduced and he only gets $678.24 per month.

People Living in Medical Facilities

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.
  • If you live in a public facility and Medi-Cal is not paying for more than half of your care, you may qualify for a different SSI benefits amount.
  • 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 you’re expecting to stay for less than 90 days, you need to get the doctor’s note and documentation about your need to Social Security right away. The facility’s admissions office can help you.

Homelessness

You don’t have to have a fixed address to collect SSI benefits. If you’re homeless, you have the same access to SSI benefits as anyone else. See Social Security’s Spotlight on Homelessness for more information.

How Earned and Unearned Countable Income Impact Your Benefit

Some people on SSI benefits have other sources of money. You could have some earnings from work, for example, or you could have other benefits coming in. SSI has rules about how much of that other income Social Security expects you to spend on basic needs. The part of your monthly income that SSI expects to be spent on basic needs is called your countable income.

Not all of your income is countable income, some of it is uncountable; there’s a calculation to figure that out. SSI deals with the 2 kinds of income differently.

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. Note that Social Security considers your gross earned income (wages before taxes are deducted) when figuring out your SSI benefits.

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 Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); short or long-term disability insurance; VA benefits; or Workers’ Compensation; income from a trust or investment; dividends, profits, or any other money gotten from a source other than work.

The countable income calculation seems complicated, but here is the basic idea: Social Security figures that most of your unearned income is supposed to go toward basic expenses, so most of your unearned income goes into your countable income. When you’re working, Social Security assumes that about half of your earned income goes to basic expenses, so roughly half of your earnings are part of your countable income.

The Countable Income Calculation

Step 1: Countable Unearned Income

Start with your total unearned income. Subtract $20, the general exclusion that everyone gets. What’s left is your countable unearned income.

Note: When something is subtracted in the countable income calculation, the result is never allowed to be less than zero.

Countable Unearned Income:

Step 2: Countable Earned Income

Start with your total gross earned income (earnings before taxes are deducted). Subtract anything left over from that $20 general exclusion. Then subtract another $65, the earned income exclusion. Subtract any Impairment Related Work Expenses (more about these on the SSI and Work page). Take what’s left, and divide by 2. The result is your countable earned income.

Countable Earned Income (Non-Blind SSI Recipients):

The calculation is different if you are blind according to SSI rules. If you are blind, we use Blind Work Expenses instead of Impairment Related Work Expenses (see SSI and Work for more details).

Countable Earned Income (Blind SSI Recipients):

Step 3: Countable Income

Add your countable unearned income to your countable earned income. Subtract any contribution to a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). The result is your total countable income.

Total Countable Income:

Step 4: Benefits Calculation

Start with the maximum SSI benefit for your living situation. Subtract your countable income. The result is your SSI benefits amount.

SSI Benefit Calculation:

If your countable income is larger than the maximum SSI benefit, your SSI benefits amount will be zero. In other words, Social Security thinks you are making enough money to pay for your own expenses.

Working students under age 22 can take some of their income out of the countable income calculation. You can read more about the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) on the SSI and Work page.

Notice that every dollar of unearned income (above the first $20) reduces your SSI benefits by $1. But because of that “divided-by-2” step, it takes $2 of earned income (after the various subtractions) to reduce your SSI benefits by $1.

Example: Magda is collecting $320/month in SSDI benefits and working a few hours a month to earn $200.

Magda's SSI Benefit Calculation:

If you're not already on SSI benefits, try the following tool to see how much your benefits might be.

Your SSI Benefit Calculation:
SSI and CalFresh

You cannot get SSI benefits and CalFresh benefits at the same time. When you get SSI, some of your benefits are paid for by California's State Supplemental Program (SSP). The SSP includes money that you can use for food, instead of getting CalFresh.

Note: Other members of your household who do not get SSI benefits may still qualify for CalFresh.

Changes to Your SSI

How much you get in SSI benefits depends on your:

If any of these things change, even slightly, you must:

Report changes within 10 days to avoid an overpayment.

Ways to report your income to Social Security

For SSI, you can report changes:

When you report, you’ll need to have documentation, such as a letter explaining any changes and copies of your paystubs.

If you have questions about the best way to report your earnings, talk to your local Social Security office or talk to a Benefits Planner.

Overpayments

Social Security may decide that they have paid you more in benefits than you were supposed to get. This situation is called an overpayment. You’ll get a letter from Social Security that tells you how much money you must pay back.

It’s very important to deal with an overpayment notice right away. The overpayment letter will ask for the money to be returned within 30 days, but Social Security recognizes that people on SSI have very little income, so they are willing to work out a reasonable monthly payment plan with you. You should contact Social Security immediately to talk about your options.

The most common reason for overpayments is the failure to report changes in earnings. They can also happen if you don’t report changes in unearned income, living situation, or marriage status. You could also be overpaid because your resources grow beyond the SSI resource limit, or because you are no longer disabled — but you continue to get benefits. If you do not report changes, then the overpayment is your fault and you’ll have to pay the money back.

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 (see SSI Appeals). 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.

Redetermination

Every 1 to 6 years, Social Security will review your income, resources, and living arrangements to make sure that you’re still eligible for SSI benefits and that you’re getting the right benefits amount. This is called a redetermination.

The redetermination can take place:

  • In person
  • By phone
  • By mail

It’s important that you respond right away and do everything Social Security needs you to do. If you don’t respond in a timely way, your SSI payments could be stopped. If you have trouble filling out a redetermination form, you can ask for help at your local Social Security office.

In a redetermination, Social Security doesn’t ask about your medical condition. They will update your records with information about your income, assets, marital status, and so on.

Medical Reviews

Social Security is required by law to review your condition periodically to make sure that you are still medically disabled. This process is called a medical Continuing Disability Review (CDR). You will be notified when Social Security needs to do a CDR, and Social Security may ask you for medical records or other information.

  • If you have been getting benefits for 2 years or more, Social Security will not do a medical review just because you go to work.
  • Social Security won’t do a medical review on your case as long as you’re using employment services through the Ticket to Work Program.

Direct Deposit

Social Security will deposit your SSI benefits directly into your bank account or on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

Where am I? The Benefits Planning Query (BPQY)

If you have any questions about your Social Security benefits, or if you’re planning a life change that can affect your benefits, it helps to know exactly what your Social Security records look like.

You can get this information by ordering a free statement from Social Security called the Benefits Planning Query (BPQY). You can request your BPQY at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

If the BPQY is incorrect in any way, or you don’t understand what it’s saying, you should call Social Security and get it straightened out.