Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that pays monthly benefits to you if have very limited income and assets and are disabled or blind (or age 65 or older).
If you qualify for SSI and you have no “countable income” (discussed below), you will receive the maximum federal benefit rate each month. In 2013, the maximum federal benefit rate is $710 if you are single, or if you are married and your spouse isn't eligible for SSI. (This amount regularly changes with cost of living increases.) If you are married and both you and your spouse are eligible for SSI benefits, the maximum federal benefit rate is $1,066.
If you earn income (you can earn a small amount of money and still be eligible for SSI), some of it, but not all of it, will be subtracted from your SSI payment.
As a general rule, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefits will be (and there are strict limits on how much money you can make in order to be eligible for SSI benefits). However, not all income and payments that you receive are counted for SSI purposes. Income that is counted, also called “countable income,” includes:
Some common examples of money and payments that SSA does not count for SSI purposes include:
Here is an example to show how the SSA will take into account your wages in determining what amount of SSI benefits you will receive each month.
First, look at the amount of gross wages you have earned in a certain month. Gross wages are the amount you earn before any taxes or other deductions are taken out. For this example, let’s say your gross wages for a month were $200. The SSA will not count the first $20 of income, so subtract that from $200, and you are left with $180. The SSA also does not count the first $65 of wages you earn from a job, so because in this example the $200 were from wages, subtract an additional $65 and you are left with $115 ($180 - $65).
Next, for any amount of wages in a month that is left over after you subtract the $20 and the $65, the SSA will reduce your SSI benefit $1 for every $2 that you made. In order to find this final amount, you take the $115 that is left and divide by 2, which equals $57.50. So, $57.50 is what the SSA will reduce from the maximum benefit rate. Assuming you do not also have an eligible spouse, you would subtract $57.50 from your maximum benefit amount of $674 to find your monthly SSI benefit, which in this example would be $616.50.
While the federal benefit rate is the same through the United States, many states will add a state supplement onto the federal benefit. Some states provide an extra supplement that the SSA includes right in your monthly benefits. If you live in one of these states, your SSI application will already include the state supplement, and when you receive your benefits every month, it will include the total from both federal and state sources.
Other states provide supplemental benefits separately from your federal SSI benefits. If you live in one of these states, you have to apply for the state supplemental benefits directly with a state agency. If you need assistance figuring out whether you live in a state that will give you supplemental benefits and how you apply for those benefits, you can call your local Social Security office.