SSI or Supplemental Security Income:  What is it and am I eligible?

This page is about Supplemental Security Income also called SSI, Title XVI, and SSID.

The following should give you a good understanding of SSI and whether you qualify for SSI.

The first question you may have is what is the difference between SSI (Supplemental Security Income & SSDI (Social Security Disability)


Supplemental Security Income is for low or no income individuals who are aged, blind or disabled.  It provides money for basic needs.  The money comes from general tax revenues.  One must have less that $2,000 in resources ($3,000 if married) to qualify for SSI.  Benefits are paid the month after the application is filed.  In about half the states if you are receiving any SSI you will qualify for Medicaid.  The other states require stricter eligibility rules.


Social Security Disability, on the hand, is available to those who are ‘insured’.  This means that you have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.  When you pay taxes from working you pay into the social Security system.  This is also called credits.  You can get up to 4 credits per year.  You need 40 credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits.  You may need less if you are younger.  In general, if you have worked consistently, you are usually covered for Social Security Disability benefits for 5 years after you stop working.  The date you are covered until is called your date of last insured or DLI.  You must be found disabled at a date prior to this date.  You become eligible for Medicare 2 years and 5 months after your date of onset (date you were found disabled not day you got decision).  You become eligible for payments 5 months after date of onset.  Resources don't matter for eligibility or amount of payment however; workers compensation and other government benefits may affect payment amount.

The first requirement to get Supplemental Security Income is that you must be 65 years or older or blind or disabled.  Proving disability is the same as in a Social Security Disability claim.  See How to win Social Security Disability and SSI.

The second requirement is that the individual must be a citizen or qualified alien.  If you are not a citizen you must meet one of the following exceptions. 

A non-citizen may receive Supplementary Security Income (SSI) if he or she meets the requirements of the laws for non-citizens that went into effect on August 22, 1996 and all the other requirements for SSI eligibility, such as the limits on income and resources.

In general, beginning August 22, 1996, most non-citizens must meet 2 requirements to be potentially eligible for SSI:

1. Be in a "qualified alien" category, and
2. Meet a condition that allows qualified aliens to get SSI.

There are 8 categories of “qualified aliens.” The categories are:

1. Lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the U.S. (“LAPR”), including certain "Amerasian immigrants":
2. "Conditional Entrants" under the law in effect before April 1,1980;
3. Paroled into the U.S. for certain reasons for a period of one year or more;
4. Refugee;
5. Granted asylum;
6. Deportation or removal is being withheld for certain reasons;
7. Cuban and Haitian entrant under the Refugee Education and Assistance Act of 1980; or
8. One of certain aliens who have been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty or whose child or parent has been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty.

A "qualified alien" is potentially eligible for SSI if he or she meets one of the following conditions:

1. Was receiving SSI on August 22, 1996 and is lawfully residing in the U.S.;
2. Is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and has 40 qualifying quarters of work. Work done by a spouse or parent may be counted toward the 40 quarters of work. Some restrictions may apply if the non-citizen or the working spouse or parent received certain Federally funded benefits after December 31, 1996;

IMPORTANT: If you entered the U.S. on or after 8/22/96, then you may not be eligible for SSI for the first five years as an LAPR even if you have 40 qualifying quarters of earnings.

3. Is an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces, one of certain honorably discharged veterans, or one of certain dependents of U.S. military personnel;
4. Was lawfully residing in the United States on August 22, 1996 and is blind or disabled;
5. Filed for SSI within 7 years of being granted status as a refugee, asylee, Cuban and Haitian entrant, Amerasian Immigrant, or deportation or removal is being withheld.

A qualified alien in one of these categories may be eligible for a maximum of 7 years from the date status was granted. If a qualified alien in one of these categories also meets one of the conditions listed above, then SSI can continue beyond the 7- year period. In addition to qualified aliens who must meet a condition for eligibility, there are certain categories of non-citizens who are exempt from the August 22, 1996 laws for non-citizens, and thus are potentially eligible for SSI. These categories include certain Canadian-born American Indians and non-citizen members of a Federally recognized American Indian tribe.

A noncitizen may also be eligible under certain circumstances if the Department of Health and Human Services determines that he or she meets the requirements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Your local Social Security office can tell you whether you are eligible. For more information, you may want to call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, and ask for our fact sheet called "Supplemental Security Income for Non-citizens," publication number 05-11051. This is also available on the Internet at

The third requirement is that you must be financially eligible.  This means you must have a limited amount of resources and income.  This section can be extremely confusing so if you want to know if you qualify you can just call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.    There are four types of income.

Earned Incomeis wages, earnings from self–employment, certain royalties and honoraria, and sheltered workshop payments.

Unearned Income is all income that is not earned, such as Social Security benefits, pensions, State disability payments, unemployment benefits, interest income, and cash from friends and relatives.

In–Kind Income is food or shelter that you get for free or less than its fair market value.

Deemed Incomeis the part of the income of your spouse with whom you live, your parent(s) with whom you live, or your sponsor (if you are an alien), which Social Security will use to compute your SSI benefit amount.
Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits. Some of your income may not count as income for the SSI program.  For more information on Income and what counts click here.  Be sure to bookmark this site first.

Countable resources must not exceed $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple living together.
Resources are things you own like cash, bank accounts, stocks, land, personal property, vehicles, anything else that can be exchanged for cash to pay for food or shelter, and deemed resources.  What are deemed resources?  Sometimes Social Security will deem a portion of the resources of a spouse guardian or sponsor of an alien as belonging to the person filling for SSI.  Not all Resources count.  For more information on resources click here.

So now you think you are eligible for SSI but how does your income affect your SSI benefits?  How much can you get? 

Step 1:  Social Security will subtract any income that they do not count from your total gross income. The remaining amount is your "countable income".

Step 2:  Social Security will subtract your "countable income" from the SSI Federal benefit rate. The result is your monthly SSI benefit as follows:

1)  Your Total Income
    -Your income that we do not count
   =Your countable income

2)  SSI Federal benefit rate
    -Your countable income       
   =Your SSI Federal benefit

One more important thing.  Your living arrangements can affect how much you can get in SSI.  If you are considered living in the household of another you will get less money than if you are considered living alone.  To be considered living alone you need to be paying for your portion of rent or food or both.


If you are now getting SSI you must report any changes.  The following are changes you must report to Social Security:

If you move or change your address.
If you change direct deposit accounts.
If someone moves into your household.
If there is a change in your income or family members income.
If there is a change in your resources.
If you get help with living expenses.
If you enter or leave an institution.
If you get married separated or divorced.
If you change your name.
If you become a parent.
If you leave the U.S.
If you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest.
If you violate condition of parole or probation.
If you are a sponsored non-citizen.
If you are age 18 to 22 and start or stop attending school.
If a person getting SSI is not able to manage funds.
If a person getting SSI dies.
If your immigration status changes.
If you get better.

If you don't report these changes to Social Security you could receive a penalty or sanctions.  A penalty will cause you to lose money from your payments.  If you get a sanction Social Security may stop your payments from 6 to 24 months.


The SSA website has a tool to help you determine if you are eligible for SSI.  You will have to answer some questions in a questionnaire.  To use this tool see SSI eligibility tool.

If you are still not sure if your are eligible for SSI benefits because I know this information is confusing you can always just apply at your local SSA office to see if you qualify.  For more information on how to apply for SSI in general visit my page on the subject of disability applications.

We have attempted to provide up to date and accurate information, however the information in this site is not guaranteed.  No attorney client relationship exist.  The information in this site is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified attorney.
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