The legislation creating the program was a result of President Nixon's effort to reform the nation's welfare programs. At that time, each state had similar programs under the Aid to the Blind, Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled, and Aid to the Elderly. The Nixon Administration thought these programs should be federalized and run by the Social Security Administration. Thus, SSI was created to eliminate the differences between the states including different disability standards and income and resources requirements which many perceived as irrational and/or unfair. The SSI program officially began in January 1974 by federalizing states' programs, designating the Social Security Administration (SSA) to administer the SSI program. SSA was selected because it had been administering a nationwide disability program under the Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) program since 1956 under the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs associated with FICA payroll taxes.
In order to be eligible to receive SSI benefits, an individual must prove the following:
Furthermore, an individual may find himself or herself ineligible if he/she is a resident of a public institution from the first day of a month through the last day of the same month, fails to apply for all other benefits for which he/she may be eligible (including Social Security benefits), has an unsatisfied warrant or violates parole conditions, fails to give SSA permission to contact any financial institution for financial records, or is outside the US for 30 consecutive days (with some exclusions). Numerous restrictions have been placed on who is eligible for the benefit, which is considered a welfare benefit. However, unlike social security benefits (Title II), earned work credits are not a requirement for SSI.
If insured for disability and not currently receiving benefits, an applicant for SSI also applies for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), and the standard by which applicants are judged to be disabled is virtually the same for both SSI and DIB
The decision as to whether an individual is disabled is made by the various state Disability Determination Services (DDS), which contract with the federal government to make such determinations. Although the DDS's are state agencies, they follow federal rules. This arrangement arose from the inception of OASDI, when some key members of Congress considered the Social Security Disability program should be administered employing federalism, fearing expansion of the federal government.
In order to be eligible for SSI, a person must meet the definition of being aged, disabled, or blind.
Aged - Being deemed aged consists of attaining the age of 65 or older. The Social Security Administration, like the United States Government in general, follows English common law and considers a person to attain an age the day before his or her birthday.
Disabled - Being deemed disabled consists of meeting the general disability definition used by the Social Security Administration:
"Disability means inability to engage in any SGA by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
"The 1967 amendments specified that workers shall be determined to be under a disability only if the physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that the individual is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. This is regardless of whether:
"The statute also specifies that 'work which exists in the national economy means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individuals lives or in several regions of the country.'
Substantial gainful activity (SGA), for the year 2008, is the ability to earn $940 gross income in a month's period for most disabled individuals, and $1570 for those whose disability includes blindness.
In addition, children under the age of 18 can be determined to be disabled for SSI purposes "if the individual has a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked or severe functional limitation(s), and can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
Blind - Being deemed blind consists of meeting the following definition:
"central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which has a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees should also be considered as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less.
In addition, for SSI purposes, an individual is considered blind regardless of the period of time they are expected to be blind or if they are performing substantial gainful activity.
One of the requirements to receive SSI is that the individual's income must be below certain limits. These limits may vary based on the state the individual lives in, his/her federal living arrangement, the number of people living in the residence, and the type of income. The limit varies on all of these factors and is described in the below section on benefit computation.
Another requirement for SSI is that the individual's resources are below a certain limit. Generally, this amount is $2000 for a single individual and $3000 for a married individual (between them and their spouse). However, conditional benefits may be paid if a substantial portion of the resources are considered non-liquid, resources that cannot be sold within 20 working days, if they agree to sell the resources at their current market value within a specified period and repay the money after the non-liquid property is sold.
However, not all actual resources are counted in calculating an individual's or couple's resources for SSI purposes.
SSI benefits are not paid solely to US citizens, but may also be paid to aliens legally residing in the United States. Conversely, citizens may find themselves ineligible because they do not currently reside within the United States; exceptions apply for children of military parent(s) who were born overseas, were disabled or became blind overseas, or first applied for benefits overseas and for students studying abroad who were eligible for SSI in the month prior to leaving the US, whose absence will be for less than 1 year, and who are studying to enhance their ability to perform substantial gainful activity, sponsored by an educational institution in the US, and would not be available to the individual in the US. Several restrictions apply to the eligibility of aliens however. These include being in a "qualified alien" category and meeting an exception condition.
There are seven categories of qualified aliens based on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration statuses. This includes:
There are 5 exception conditions. These include:
Payments for SSI are made for the first day of the month, unless the first of the month is on a Weekend or a legal holiday, in which case the payment is made on the first day prior that is not a weekend or a legal holiday. The minimum benefit is $1 (USD).
The SSI program, or Title XVI of the Social Security Act, provides monthly federal cash assistance of up to $637 (as of 2008) for an individual to help meet the costs of basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. In most states, SSI eligibility usually assures concurrent access to important medical coverage under the various state Medicaid programs and sometimes access to Section 8 housing benefits. In some states, supplemental payments are made by the state, increasing the cash assistance available through SSI. For example, the state of California increases the cash assistance by up to $233 per month as of 2007.
SSI takes into consideration what the income and resources the applicant or recipient has. Persons who have qualified for Social Security disability benefits, may receive SSI during the 5-month waiting period, if they meet the income and resource requirements. The resource limit, for single individuals, is $2000 and for married individuals, is $3000. Resources include anything that is cash or can be turned into cash, such as art, mineral rights, stocks or other investments, or real property. In some situations, however, these resources can be excluded. SSI benefits are generally reduced dollar-for-dollar by any unearned income, such as TANF, alimony, unemployment insurance, Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits. Earned income, from wages or self-employment, is treated differently, and more favorably. In other words, a person may be ineligible if he or she receives $750 per month in alimony, but may not be if $750 per month is received from working. It is permissible, subject to regulations, to work and continue to receive SSI. Even if a person no longer receive SSI payments because his or her income from wages or self-employment is too high, he or she may still be eligible for receive Medicaid under so-called 1619 provisions. SSI also takes into consideration the income of so-called "deemors," i.e., a spouse lives with the recipient, a parent or parents if they live with a child recipient under the age of 18, or, in some cases, the sponsor of an alien.
SSI is not retroactive, unlike Social Security disability. Social Security determines the month you have protected for an SSI application by the date of your intent to file, so long as it is expressed to Social Security and an application is filed within 60 days. You may call Social Security toll-free to set up a disability interview. You cannot currently file online for SSI. However, you may apply for DIB online and add SSI application via a phone appointment. If you call the last day of the month, and the interview is set for the second week of the proceeding month, your SSI eligibility will still go back to the month you actually called and set up the appointment. Medicaid benefits usually start the first month in which you qualify both medically and financially, although actual SSI payments do not start until the next month. For example, a person calls in to set up an appointment for February. January remains the month application, however, no benefits are paid during the application month.
If you are an immigrant you must have been a legal resident of the United States before the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 took effect (August 22, 1996) in order to qualify for SSI. If you arrive after that date you may not qualify and be denied by SSI benefis. However, the regulations governing alien eligibility for SSI are complex and contain many exceptions, for instance asylee, refugees, spouses of a member of the military or some lawfully admitted for permanent residence (LAPR)may be "qualified aliens" so if you are an LAPR for at least 5 years and have a valid I-551 issued by Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration and have worked in the United States as well you may qualify. If you want to know if you might qualify for SSI, you should contact the Social Security Administration for an appointment.
Any month that you are a fugitive felon, that is have an outstanding or unsatisfied warrant, you are ineligible for benefits, in most states. A recent court decision somewhat mitigated this rule, in some northeastern states. If you are incarcerated for an entire calendar month, you are ineligible for benefits. If you are in a medical facility, paid for by Medicaid (at least 50%), your payment may be reduced to $30.
Calculation of an SSI benefit begins with the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). The FBR for 2008 is $637.00.