Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
If you were denied SSI due to a finding that you are not disabled, please see Disability Claim Process.
Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a federally funded program that makes payments to individuals with a low income who are disabled, age 65 or older, or blind. If you are a minor, your parent or guardian can file on your behalf. In order to be eligible for SSI benefits, your income must fall below a certain level. Income, for purposes of SSI eligibility, means any type of money you receive in the form of wages, other Social Security benefits, pensions, etc. Your assets must also fall below a certain amount to qualify for SSI, although, generally, the value of your home will not be counted. Assets that may be counted include cash, bank accounts, stocks, U.S. savings bonds, land, vehicles, personal property, life insurance, and anything else that can be converted to cash and used for food and shelter.
The SSA considers individuals to be blind if they have a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in their better eye even with the use of a corrective lens, OR, have a visual field limitation in their better eye, such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.
If you do not meet the definition above, you may still qualify for SSI as a disabled individual. To be found disabled for SSI eligibility purposes, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which 1) has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months, AND 2) results in the inability to perform any substantial gainful activity, OR 3) can be expected to result in death.
20 CFR § 404.202:
(a) You are—
(1) Aged 65 or older;
(2) Blind; or
(b) You are a resident of the United States (§ 416.1603), and—
(1) A citizen or a national of the United States (§ 416.1610);
(2) An alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States (§ 416.1615);
(3) An alien permanently residing in the United States under color of law (§ 416.1618); or
(4) A child of armed forces personnel living overseas as described in § 416.216.
(c) You qualify based upon your income.
(d) You do not have excessive resources.
(e) You are disabled, drug addiction or alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability (see § 416.935), and you have not previously received a total of 36 months of Social Security benefit payments when appropriate treatment was available or 36 months of SSI benefits on the basis of disability where drug addiction or alcoholism was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.
(1) Fleeing to avoid prosecution for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, which is a felony under the laws of the place from which you flee;
(2) Fleeing to avoid custody or confinement after conviction for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, which is a felony under the laws of the place from which you flee; or
(3) Violating a condition of probation or parole imposed under Federal or State law.
Income is anything you receive in cash or in kind that you can use to meet your needs for food and shelter – such as wages, regular gifts from family or friends, Social Security benefits and pensions. Income also includes any money received for or in-kind payments for food and shelter. The amount of income you can receive each month and still get SSI depends partly on where you live. See 20 CFR § 416.1100.
Some income is also not counted to determine if you qualify for SSI. For example, the following do not count:
- The first $20 a month of most income you receive;
- The first $65 a month you earn from working and half the amount over $65;
- The first $60 of any irregular gifts;
- Medical assistance – either in kind or cash used to pay for medical assistance received from a government entity;
- Food stamps;
- Shelter you get from private nonprofit organizations; and
- Most home energy assistance.
Income can be counted when actually received or when set aside and available for use.
If you are married, part of your spouse’s income and resources are included when deciding whether you qualify for SSI. If you are younger than age 18, part of your parents’ income and resources are included. And, if the disabled person is a sponsored noncitizen, the sponsor’s income and resources may also count. This is called deeming.
The SSA may also deem the value of in-kind support, such as the value of housing. If you are a student, some of the wages or scholarships you receive may not count. If you are disabled but work, Social Security does not count wages you use to pay for items or services that help you to work. For example, if you need a wheelchair, the wages you use to pay for the wheelchair do not count as income when we decide whether you qualify for SSI. If you are disabled or blind, some of the income you use (or save) for training or to buy things you need to work may not count.
Resources means cash or other liquid assets or any real or personal property that an individual (or spouse, if any) owns and could convert to cash to be used for his or her support and maintenance. Resources are limited to $2,000 for an individual; $3,000 for a married couple.
Not all resources are counted, some exemptions are allowed such as the primary residence, an automobile, and household goods. 20 CFR § 416.1210. If the property cannot be liquidated, it is not a resource. Non-liquid resources - resources that cannot be converted to cash within 20 days - will be evaluated based on the equity value of the property. If an individual does have resources that put him or her over the resource limit, that person can still qualify and receive benefits if they make reasonable efforts to properly dispose of the resource. Generally, a person must dispose of resource for fair market value in 9 months if the resource is real property and 3 months if it is personal property. Any net proceeds from the sale of the resource would then need to be used to pay any benefits received pending the sale of the resource.
The SSA can look back 24 months to determine if an applicant transferred property for less than fair market value. For example, if you own property that is not your primary residence and decide to give the property to your brother so you can qualify for SSI, the SSA will look back at that transaction to determine if you disposed of the property for less than fair market value. If the transaction occurred within the 24 months before you applied for benefits, you will be charged with the difference between the compensation actually received and the actual value of the property as a resource and potentially ineligible for benefits for a period of time.
The ALJs often misinterpret the limitation on drug and alcohol use as listed in (e) above. The drug addiction or alcoholism must have been a “contributing” factor “material” to the determination of disability. It is generally not enough that the person used drugs or alcohol during the period they are claiming they were disabled. The question is whether or not the person would still be disabled without the drug or alcohol abuse. This leads to a but for test: but for the drugs or alcohol use would the person be disabled – if yes, then the SSA cannot find the claimant ineligible due to drug and alcohol abuse.
Under this provision, see (f)(2) above, the SSA was terminating benefits of SSI recipients simply for having an outstanding warrant. A new settlement agreement in a case called Martinez v. Astrue challenges this practice. Now, the SSA must actually show the person was “fleeing” to avoid prosecution and not simply have an active warrant in order to terminate benefits. If you were denied or terminated from receiving social security benefits because of the "fleeing felon" provision, please feel free to contact Nevada Legal Services as we may be able to assist you in recovering benefits improperly denied. Whether or not you may be eligible for repayment of suspended benefits based on the fleeing felon provision depends on when your benefits were initially suspended and may depend on when you appealed that suspension. Click here for an informational brochure related to the Martinez settlement produced by the National Senior Citizens Law Center.