Supplemental Security Income (or SSI), a U.S government program, is intended to offer monthly payments to blind or disable people who are aged (65 or older) and have little or no income and few resources. Created in 1974, the program was designed to replace federal-state adult assistance programs that served the same purpose.
Although the program is administrated by the Social Security Administration, SSI is funded from U.S. Treasury general funds, not from Social Security taxes.
Speaking of “blind”, in the SSI program, it refers to statutory blindness. The so-called statutory blindness is defined as central visual acuity of 20/200 (6 or 60) or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lens. This means as a statutorily blind individual, you would need to stand behind an object at 20 feet (6.1 m) away to see it – with corrective lenses – with the same degree of clarity as a normally sighted person could stand 200 feet (61 m) away.
If you have average acuity but have a visual field of less than 20 degrees (the norm being 180 degrees, you are also considered statutorily blind.
As for “disabled”, you also have to meet the standards of disability as defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). According to the SSA, you may be considered disabled, if you have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment. Bear in mind that the impairment must have lasted or can be expected to last for a consecutive period of at least 12 months. Additionally, it also makes you unable to do any substantial gainful activity and can be expected to cause death.
As I mentioned before, whether you can get SSI benefits is based on your income and resources. But, how is the limited income or resource defined?
First, you should know your income usually consists of 3 parts according to Social Security Administration:
• Earned income: including wages, net earnings from self-employment, certain royalties and honoraria and sheltered workshop payments
• Unearned income: including Social Security benefits, pensions, State disability payments, unemployment benefits, interest income etc. (the income is not earned)
• In-kind income: including such things as food or shelter that you get for free or less than its fair market value
If you are married, a portion of your spouse’s income and resources will also be included in deciding whether you are eligible for SSI benefits. For those under age 18, part of their parents’ income and resources will be taken into consideration. In addition, if you are a sponsored noncitizen, the SSA may include your sponsor’s income and resources as well.
However, be aware that the SSA doesn’t count all of your income when deciding whether you can qualify for SSI benefits. Here are some examples that are not counted as income for the SSI program.
• The first $20 of most income you get in a month
• The first $65 of your earnings and one half of earnings more than $65 you get each month
• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Commonly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP offers financial assistance for purchasing food to low and no-income people living in the country
• Income tax refunds
• Home energy assistance
• Food or shelter based on need you get from non-profit agencies
Anyway, the amount of SSI benefits you can receive is based on your income. As a general rule, if you have more income, you will receive less in SSI benefits. If your countable income exceeds the allowable limit, you cannot qualify for SSI benefits.
With regard to resources, they are typically things you own like cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, personal property, life insurance, vehicles and anything else you own which could be changed to cash and used for food or shelter. Just like the definition of income, part of the resources of a spouse, parents, sponsor may also be counted as yours in deciding whether you qualify for SSI.
Of course, Social Security Administration doesn’t count everything you own in deciding whether you have too many resources to qualify for SSI. For example, the home you live in and the land it is on are not counted. The SSA also doesn’t count your life insurance policies with a combined face value less than $1,500. If you have only one vehicle that is used for transportation for you or a member of your household, then it isn’t counted despite its value.
Other things that are not counted include:
• Household goods and personal effects (such as your wedding and engagement rings)
• Retroactive SSI or Social Security benefits for up to 9 months after you receive them (including payments received in installments)
• Grants, scholarships, fellowships, or gifts set aside to pay educational expenses for 9 months after receipt
• Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family
• Burial funds for you and your spouse, with each of up to $1,500 (Be noted that SSI doesn’t pay burial expenses, but you may set aside a burial fund.)
Anyway, keep in mind that you may be considered eligible if your resources are worth less than $2,000. A couple may be entitled to SSI benefits if their resources are worth no more than $3,000.
What if you are trying to sell your property or other resources that may make you over the resource limit? You may also be eligible to receive SSI benefits while you are trying to sell your resources. If you meet certain conditions, you may receive benefits ever longer.
However, after you sell the resources, you have to pay back the SSI benefits you received for the period in which you were trying to sell the resources. The benefits paid during that period are called conditional benefits. Be noted that your conditional payments cannot start until after you sign a conditional benefit agreement form and the SSA accepts the agreement. To get the form, visit your local Social Security office.
In some cases, you may continue to receive SSI benefits after you sell resources. Just contact your local Social Security office to find out whether your SSI benefits will continue to be payable.
Note: Conditional benefits only apply to two types of things that you sell, including real property, such as land or a house that you don’t live in and personal property such as non-excluded vehicles (e.g. a second car). If what you are trying to sell is real property, you can receive SSI benefits for up to 9 months under certain circumstances. While you are trying to sell personal property, you can be entitled to SSI benefits for no more than 3 months.
Of course, in addition to the above-mentioned requirements, there are other rules you must meet. For instance, to get SSI benefits, you must be a citizen or national of the United States. In some cases, qualified aliens may be eligible for such a program under certain conditions. Specifically, as an alien, you are considered a qualified alien, if you find yourself in one of the following categories.
• You are lawfully admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the country, including “Amerasian immigrant”
• You are granted conditional entry
• You are paroled into the U.S.
• You are a refugee admitted to the U.S.
• You are granted asylum
• Your deportation is being withheld
• You are a “Cuban or Haitian entrant”
Plus, under certain conditions, you may be considered a deemed qualified alien, if you, your children or your parents have been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by a family member while in the United States.
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