Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

A. Definition

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal supplemental income program funded by general tax revenues (NOT Social Security taxes), and managed by the Social Security Administration. It is designed to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter for low income people who are elderly, blind, or disabled. In addition to providing income to those who qualify, SSI assures concurrent access to medical coverage and sometimes to Section 8 Housing benefits. To qualify for SSI, you must have little or no income, few assets, have attained the age of 65, or be blind or considered disabled under the provisions of the Social Security Administration.

B. General Information

SSI was created in 1972 and began operations in 1974, as a result of President Richard Nixon’s effort to reform the nation’s welfare programs. Prior to its inception, each state had a similar program under the Aid to the Blind, Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled, and Aid to the Elderly. The Nixon Administration federalized these programs to eliminate the differences between the states’ disability standards and income/resource requirements, which many considered unfair.

The SSI program, or Title XVI of the Social Security Act 1611, provides monthly federal cash assistance of up to $721 for an individual and $1,082 for a couple, as of 2014. The basic SSI amount is the same nationwide, although many states add money to the basic benefit. For nearly three fifths of recipients, SSI represents their only source of income. In December 2013, nearly 8.4 million people collected SSI benefits.

SSI is distinct from the Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI), the other program run by the Social Security Administration. Nevertheless, the two programs often overlap. Many SSI recipients have worked long enough to collect Social Security but their Social Security benefit is low enough that they also qualify for SSI. Nearly one-third of adult SSI recipients are under the age of 65, and almost three-fifths of recipients are over 65 and also get Social Security.

C. Social Security Administration Disability Benefits vs SSI

If a severe physical disorder, mental disorder, or both prevent you from sustaining any full time work for a year or longer, then you may be eligible for SSI. You can apply online at You also can enlist the services of a qualified disability representative, who can assist you with the application process.

The determination of whether you are disabled is made by your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS), which contracts with the Social Security Administration. Although DDS’s are state agencies, they follow federal rules.

If you are under the age of 65, your disability representative can help you determine whether your impairment is severe enough to qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration. He or she also can advise you whether to apply for SSI, RSDI, or both. If you are over the age of 65, you should contact the Social Security Administration directly to find out which program(s) to apply to your situation.

Since its introduction, SSI has guaranteed a minimum level of income to those who qualify