What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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SSI is a federal program that helps people who have disabilities, are blind, or are over age 65 and also have low income and limited resources. It is run by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

If you qualify for SSI, you get monthly cash payments to help you pay for your basic needs and automatically qualify for Medicaid health coverage. A person who is single can get up to $794 per month in benefits.

What is the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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Social Security has two disability benefits programs with very similar names:

Some people qualify for both programs at the same time. If you get benefits from Social Security, but aren’t sure which ones you get, open a free my Social Security account or order a free Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Whom can I call to ask questions about SSI?

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If you have questions about SSI and need to talk with somebody, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) or visit your local Social Security office.

If you want to ask about how work might affect your SSI benefits, try contacting:

I’ve never had a job. Can I get SSI?

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Yes. You do not need to have worked to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

How does Social Security define disability?

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For your disability to meet the Social Security adult disability standards:
  • You must be able to show medical reports that confirm that you have a severe physical or mental disability.
  • The disability must be life-threatening or have lasted or be expected to last at least a year.
  • The disability must prevent you from doing Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) for at least a year.

Learn more about how Social Security decides whether you have a disability.

Does what I have in the bank and the property I own affect my eligibility for SSI?

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Yes. To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you cannot have more than $2,000 in resources ($3,000 for couples). Resources include money you have and property you own.

The home you live in and one vehicle are not included in those limits. Certain other resources are also not included.

Additionally, if your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where, over time, you can save up to $100,000 and not have it counted by SSI. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

How can I apply for SSI?

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You can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI):

You can also start your application online, but you must complete it by phone or in person.

Note: Due to COVID-19, there may be limits on in-person services. Contact your agency by phone to ask about this.

Once I apply, how long will it take to get my SSI benefits?

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The SSI application process can take four months or longer. If you’re approved, Social Security will pay you for benefits going all the way back to the date you applied. That’s why it is important to apply as soon as you can.

Can I get other help while waiting on my SSI application?

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Yes. Your Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) office may be able to help you get SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), Medicaid health coverage, Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (K-TAP), and emergency cash and housing assistance, if you need them.

I disagree with Social Security’s decision to deny me SSI benefits or to reduce my benefits. Is there anything I can do?

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Yes. If you feel that Social Security’s decision is incorrect, you can appeal:
  • File your appeal quickly. After you get a denial letter, you have 60 days to file an appeal. If you don’t appeal within 60 days, you may not be able to appeal.
  • You can file your appeal online or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and ask them to send you an SSI appeal form. If you file online, you need to mail or deliver any new information about your situation to Social Security.
  • You have the right to have a lawyer or other qualified person (who is familiar with you and with the SSI program) represent you during the appeal process. Or you may choose to deal with it yourself.

Note: If your application for SSI benefits is denied and you disagree with the decision, file an appeal. Do not just fill out the application forms again — that would be refiling. If you appeal and win, your benefits will be paid back to your original application date. If you refile, Social Security will start all over and you will not get any past benefits you might have gotten.

Learn more about appeals.

Contact Kentucky Protection & Advocacy for help with appeals.

For how long can I get SSI benefits?

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You can keep getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits as long as you have a disability and meet the income, resource, and other requirements.

From time to time, Social Security checks to make sure you still qualify. A medical Continuing Disability Review (CDR) checks if you are still medically disabled. A redetermination looks at your income, resources, and living arrangements.

How does my income affect my SSI benefits?

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at your income when they decide whether you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and, if so, how much you should get in SSI benefits.

Your sources of income can include:

When they look at your income, Social Security will calculate that you should be spending some of it on your basic needs. The part of your monthly income that SSI expects you to spend on basic needs is called your countable income. The more countable income you have, the less you get in SSI benefits.

Social Security doesn’t count all of your income. For example, they will only count half or less of your earned income. That means that you could be earning quite a bit and still have countable income below the limit.

The bottom line: You usually end up with more money if you work while you are getting SSI benefits.

Learn more about how Social Security counts your income.

What happens to my SSI benefits if I move into a nursing home or other medical facility?

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If you live in a medical facility, such as a hospital or nursing home, you probably can’t get full Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits:
  • If Medicaid pays for more than half the cost of your care in the facility, the most you can get in SSI benefits is $30 per month.
  • If Medicaid does not pay for more than half of your care in the facility, you cannot get any SSI benefits.
  • 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 full SSI benefits.
    • Note: 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.

What should I do if my income or living arrangements change?

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If your earned income, unearned income, marital status, or living arrangements change, even slightly, you must report the change twice:
  • To your local Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) office within 10 days of when the change happens.
  • To Social Security at the start of the month after the change. You can report:
    • In person, by phone, or by fax during the first 10 days of the next month.
    • Using the SSI Telephone Reporting System, the SSI reporting app, or My Social Security during the first 6 days of the next month.

Note: Due to COVID-19, there may be limits on in-person services. Contact your agency by phone to ask about this.

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.

Note: If you also get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must report your income separately for SSI and SSDI. Ask your Social Security claims representative how you should report income for SSDI.

What can I do if I disagree with an overpayment notice?

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If you think an overpayment wasn’t your fault and you can’t pay it back because you need the money to pay for living expenses, you can ask for a waiver of the overpayment. To get the waiver form, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and ask for Form SSA-632. If the waiver is granted, you won’t have to repay the overpayment.

If you think the amount of your overpayment is incorrect or that you do not have any overpayment, you have the right to appeal. If you appeal within 10 days of the date the notice was sent, your benefits may continue until Social Security decides on the appeal.

Learn more about appeals.

Contact Kentucky Protection & Advocacy for help with appeals.

What happens to my SSI if I go back to work?

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Roughly speaking, for every dollar you earn at work, your SSI benefits amount only goes down by fifty cents. That’s why most people on SSI who go back to work end up better off.

Learn more about how Social Security counts your earned income.

Does my health coverage change when I go back to work?

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If you get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you automatically qualify for Medicaid health coverage. If you go back to work, you can usually keep Medicaid even if your earnings cause your SSI benefits amount to go down to zero.

Depending on your income and resource levels, Medicaid coverage can continue through SSI’s 1619(b) rule.

If you lose your Medicaid coverage, there should be another health coverage option you can get, such as employer-sponsored coverage or private individual coverage. And, if you can’t afford the individual coverage, the government may help you pay for it through tax credits.

The bottom line: There is a coverage option for almost everybody. Do not worry that getting a job will leave you without health coverage.

Try DB101's Finding the Right Health Coverage for You interactive guide.

What happens if I go to work, lose my SSI benefits, and then find I can’t work anymore?

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If you stop getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because you have a job, but then you lose your job and your income goes down, you may not have to reapply for SSI benefits.

If it has been less than 12 months since your last SSI payment, you can get your SSI benefits started up again by reporting to your local Social Security office that you are no longer working.

If it’s been more than 12 months, you can ask for Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) if:

  • Your SSI benefits amount went down to zero because of your income
  • You can’t work at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level because of your disability
  • Your current medical impairment is the same as the one that originally made you eligible for SSI, and
  • You stopped getting SSI benefits less than five years ago.

If you get EXR, you can get up to six months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security checks to make sure you still qualify for the program.