What is SSI?

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SSI is the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income program. SSI provides monthly income for people who meet Social Security’s rules for disability, and have limited income and resources.

How can I apply for SSI?

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You can apply for SSI:
  • Online.
  • At your local Social Security Office.
  • By telephone with Social Security. Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can apply by phone or set up an appointment to apply in person. Papers will be mailed to you to fill out.

Minnesota has a network of SSI advocates who can help you fill out your SSI application.

What kind of documents will I need to have when I apply for SSI?

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You’ll need to document:
  • Your identity
  • Your citizenship
  • Your age
  • Your medical condition
  • Your income
  • Your resources

If you’re applying in person, you should bring at least:

  • Identification and birth certificate
  • Naturalization papers, if applicable
  • Social Security number
  • Names of doctors, hospitals, clinics and professionals who have treated you
  • Copies of tax records or W-2 forms for any work you’ve done
  • Information about any other benefits you’re on
  • School records, if you’re under 22
  • Copies of recent bank statements
  • Proof about any real estate, savings and retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, etc. that you own

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

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The SSI application process can take from three to six months to complete, once Social Security has everything they need to make a decision. If you’re approved, Social Security will send you a check for back benefits going 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. If you need urgent help, your county human services agency can see if you’re eligible for a small cash grant called General Assistance (GA), of $203/month. They may also be able to help you get SNAP (Food Stamps/Food Support) and health coverage through Medical Assistance (MA). There may be other help available if you have minor children living with you.

I got a denial letter from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Does this mean I don’t get SSI?

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No. When you apply for SSI, Social Security must first check to see if you’re eligible for SSDI, their disability insurance program. You will receive a separate letter telling you about your SSI application If you get a denial letter from SSDI, it does not mean you've been turned down for SSI, but only for the SSDI program. Check the letterhead on the denial letter. An actual SSI denial letter will say “Supplemental Security Income” at the top.

I was denied for SSI. Is there anything I can do?

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Yes. You don’t have to accept Social Security’s decision. If you feel that the decision is unfair or incorrect, you have the right to file an appeal.

You have 60 days from the date the denial letter was sent to file an appeal. Do it quickly; the faster you file, the faster your case will be resolved. If you miss the 60-day window, you may lose your right to appeal at all.

To file an appeal, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) and ask them to send you an SSI appeal form. You can also request your appeal using this online form.

When you file an appeal, you can send more information that will help explain your case.

You have the right to have a lawyer or other qualified person represent you during the appeal process. Or you may choose to deal with it yourself.

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

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Income from work increases your countable income, which lowers your SSI benefit. Roughly speaking, for every $2 you earn at work, your SSI will go down by $1. That’s why most people on SSI who go back to work end up better off. Read our page on SSI and Work for more information.

What are Impairment Related Work Expenses?

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Social Security calls an expense an Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE) if:
  • You bought an item or service that you need in order to work.
  • You need that item or service because of the physical or mental impairment that qualified you for SSI in the first place or a condition for which you are being treated.
  • You paid for it yourself and nobody reimbursed you for the cost.
  • The expense is fully documented with receipts.

Some examples of IRWEs are: wheelchair repairs, out of pocket payments for prescription medication or medical services, or a computer screen reader.

IRWEs are subtracted from your earned income when computing your countable income. This helps you by keeping your SSI benefit higher than it would be without the IRWEs.

What are Blind Work Expenses?

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If you are blind, the rules for work expenses are different. Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) can be any expense that is necessary to let you work. Unlike an IRWE, a BWE does not have to be related to your blindness or other medical condition. Here are some examples of BWEs that would not be allowed as IRWEs:
  • Federal, state and local income taxes
  • Social Security taxes
  • Translation of materials into Braille
  • Professional association fees
  • Union fees

Your SSI benefit will be higher when BWEs are used in the SSI countable income calculation.

What is the Student Earned Income Exclusion?

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The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) allows students to earn up to $1,750 per month without having those wages count as part of countable income.

The SEIE applies for SSI recipients who are:

  1. Under 22 years old; and
  2. Regularly attending school.

The SEIE lets you keep $1,750 in earnings each month without affecting the SSI countable earned income calculation. But there’s an annual cap of $7,060, so if you earn more than this in any given year, the income starts counting again.

What is a PASS?

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Social Security’s Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program is for people on SSI who want to save money in order to go to work.

SSI has strict resource limits ($2,000 for an individual, $3,000 for a couple). But these limits can make it hard to go back to work. If you need to save enough money to pay for college classes, buy a delivery truck, or save for some other work-related goal, you’ll run into the resource limit pretty quickly.

To set up a PASS, you must:

  • Be on SSI, or become eligible for SSI as a result of an approved PASS application;
  • Have another source of earned or unearned income, or have resources over $2,000 to fund your PASS;
  • Have a particular work goal in mind that will allow you to earn enough to get off disability benefits; and
  • Be able to write down a plan that shows how saving a certain amount of money will allow you to reach your goal.

When you have a PASS, you set aside a certain amount of money (other than SSI) each month toward your work goal. The money you set aside doesn’t count toward your SSI countable income, and the savings you build won’t count against your SSI resource limit. That way, SSI can keep paying for your basic needs while you get ready to work.

What is an IDA?

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An Individual Development Account (IDA) is a special savings account. If you are working and qualify for an IDA, you can put some of your earnings in the IDA to save for a specific goal. A goal might be going to college, making a down payment on a first home, or starting a business.

With most IDA programs, for every dollar you put into your IDA account yourself, your IDA will add from $1 to $4. This makes an IDA a very attractive way to save money.

There are many different IDA programs available. Some are funded by the federal government, others by the state and still others by private companies or nonprofits.

If your IDA is funded by the federal government, then:

  • The earnings you put into the IDA don’t count as earned income for the purposes of SSI.
  • The matching money the IDA adds to your contribution doesn’t count as income for the purposes of SSI.
  • The IDA account itself doesn’t count against your SSI resource limit.

What is the Ticket to Work Program?

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Sometimes all you need to go to work is some career counseling, or job training, or help writing a business plan.

Under Social Security’s Ticket to Work program, all SSI recipients get a “ticket” or voucher that they can trade for many different kinds of employment services. Click here to find a list of Ticket to Work service providers in your area.

As long as you are using Ticket to Work services and meeting timely progress requirements, Social Security will not do a medical review of your disability.

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

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If you try to go to work but find you can’t, you may be able to get your SSI benefit restarted quickly without having to file a new application.

If you are 1619(b) eligible and you stop working, you will be able to get your SSI benefit restarted quickly without having to file a new application or wait for medical review.

If you earned so much you became ineligible for 1619(b), you can request Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) if:

  • Your SSI benefit went to zero because of earned income;
  • You can’t work at the SGA level because of your disability;
  • Your current medical impairment is the same as or similar to the one that originally made you eligible for SSI; and
  • Your benefit has been terminated for less than five years.

If you get EXR, you can get up to six months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security looks at your medical records.

What is a BPQY?

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A Benefits Planning Query, or BPQY, is a free statement from Social Security that details your current Social Security benefits and your work history. The BPQY can be a valuable guide to your benefits when you are planning a change, such as a return to work.

You can request a BQPY at your Social Security office, or by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778).

Who is eligible for SSI?

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SSI is for people who:
  • Are disabled, blind, or over age 65;
  • Have resources below $2,000 ($3,000 for an eligible couple);
  • Are unable to work very much because of disability;
  • Have limited income;
  • Are US citizens (or meet certain requirements for noncitizens).

To be eligible for SSI you must be medically disabled according to Social Security’s rules.

Is SSI the same in all states?

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Yes. Social Security supplies a basic amount, the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). In addition to the FBR, each state can decide to pay an additional amount, called the State Supplemental Payment. Minnesota’s state supplement is called Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA).

Do other benefits come along with SSI?

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Yes. In Minnesota, people who qualify for SSI may also qualify for MSA (Minnesota Supplemental Aid), MA (Medical Assistance health coverage), and SNAP (Food Stamps/Food Support). You apply separately for these three other benefits.

I’ve never had a job. Can I get SSI?

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Yes. You can be eligible for SSI if you have never worked.

How does Social Security define disability?

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To be eligible for SSI, you must show that you have a disability that limits your ability to work. Social Security requires that:
  • 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.

What is SGA?

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Social Security uses the term “Substantial Gainful Activity,” or SGA, to describe a level of work activity and earnings. In 2014, if you are earning more than $1,070 per month (or $1,800 if you’re blind), Social Security says your earnings are Substantial Gainful Activity.

When Social Security figures out if your work activity is Substantial Gainful Activity, it does more than just look at your earnings. Click here for more information.

How does Social Security define blindness?

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Blindness in Social Security disability programs is "statutory blindness". This means you have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in your better eye (even while you are wearing a correcting contact lens or glasses in that eye), or you have a limitation in the field of vision of your better eye, so that:
  • You have a contraction of peripheral visual fields to 10 degrees from the point of fixation, or
  • The widest diameter of your visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees, or
  • You have a contraction of peripheral visual fields to 20 percent or less visual field efficiency.

What is the Red Book?

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The Red Book is Social Security’s guide to work incentives. It is a general reference to how paid work affects SSI and SSDI benefits.

What is the Blue Book?

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The Blue Book is Social Security's “Listing of Impairments.” It’s a list of medical conditions and their severities. If your medical condition is in the book, and is severe enough, you may be automatically considered disabled.

How much is the SSI benefit?

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The size of your monthly SSI benefit depends on your living situation and your other income. In 2014, the maximum SSI benefit (or Federal Benefit Rate, FBR) for an individual is $721/month, or $1,082 for an eligible couple.

How long will the SSI benefit last?

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You’ll keep getting SSI as long as you are still disabled and meet the income, resource and other eligibility requirements.

From time to time, Social Security will check to make sure that you still qualify. A medical Continuing Disability Review looks at whether you are still medically disabled. A redetermination  looks at your income, assets and living arrangements.

What is an eligible couple?

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SSI calls you part of an eligible couple if:
  • You are married; and
  • You are living with your spouse; and
  • Both you and your spouse are fully eligible for SSI.

What is spousal deeming?

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Spousal deeming is the process of deciding how your spouse’s income should affect your SSI benefit. If you are married and your spouse is not also eligible for SSI, then SSI assumes that some of your spouse’s income can be used to help pay for your basic needs. Deemed income from your spouse will make your SSI benefit smaller.

What is in-kind support and maintenance?

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When somebody else gives you (or pays for) your food or shelter, that help is called in-kind support and maintenance. In-kind support and maintenance is considered income and can lower your SSI payment. Instead of trying to keep track of the dollar value of this kind of help, Social Security presumes that it has a certain value.

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

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People who live in medical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes generally can’t collect a full SSI benefit.
  • If you are living in a medical facility where Medical Assistance (MA) pays for more than half the cost of your care, your SSI benefit is at most $30/month, depending on other income you receive. MSA may also pay a personal needs allowance in this situation.
  • If you live in a public facility and MA is not paying for more than half of your care, you may not be eligible to get any SSI benefit.
  • If your doctor says you will be in the facility for less than 90 days, and you can show that you need your SSI benefit to keep your home or living arrangement, you may continue to get your SSI check.

If your medical stay is less than 90 days and you need your SSI to maintain your house or apartment, 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.

Can I collect SSI if I’m homeless?

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Yes. You don’t have to have a fixed address to collect an SSI benefit. If you’re homeless, you have the same access to SSI as anyone else. See Social Security’s Spotlight on Homelessness for more information.

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

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Yes. The SSI program has very strict limits on how much money you can have and on what you own. You are allowed to have resources (cash and property that you can convert to cash) of up to $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple) under the program.

The home you live in, and one car that you own and use to get to work or medical appointments, are not included in those limits. Certain other resources are also not included.

Do I have to be a US citizen to get SSI?

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Not necessarily. To qualify for SSI, you must be a US citizen or a qualified alien. Some important categories of qualified aliens include people who are:
  • Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the US.
  • Refugees admitted to the US under Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Granted asylum under section 208 of the INA.

Qualified aliens must also meet certain other conditions to be eligible for SSI.

Some groups of immigrants and refugees will only be able to get SSI for seven years after their date of entry into the US. If they think they will continue to need SSI, they need to become US citizens before that time is up. If you are unsure of your immigration status or how it affects SSI, you should talk to Social Security or the INS.

How does my income affect my SSI benefit?

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If you have income from other sources, your SSI benefit will get smaller. Social Security treats income from some sources differently than income from other sources. Your SSI benefit is reduced by the amount of your countable income, which depends on your earned and unearned income.
  • Earned income is money you get from work you do. It includes salaries, wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees or other amounts you get in exchange for physical or mental work you actually do.

    If you’re self-employed, you subtract your business expenses before reporting your earned income, the way you do when you file your taxes.
  • Unearned income is anything else: Money you get for which you do no work. Examples include disability benefits such as SSDI, short or long-term disability insurance, VA benefits, or Worker’s Compensation; income from a trust or investment; dividends, profits, or any other money received from a source other than work.

Social Security’s countable income calculation is described here.

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

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You need to report the changes. The amount of your monthly SSI check depends on your:

If any of these things change, even slightly, you must immediately:

  1. Report the change to your local Social Security office; and
  2. Report the change to your local county human services agency.

You must report any change in income or living situation within 10 days. It’s important to report changes right away to avoid an overpayment.

What is an overpayment?

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Social Security may decide that they have paid you more in benefits than you were supposed to get. This situation is called an overpayment. You’ll get a letter in which Social Security tells you how much money you must pay back.

It’s very important to deal with an overpayment notice right away. The overpayment letter will ask for the money to be returned within 30 days, but Social Security recognizes that people on SSI have very little income, so they are willing to work out a monthly payment plan with you.

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

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If you were overpaid but feel that it wasn’t your fault, and you can’t pay back the overpayment because you need the money to pay living expenses, you can ask for a waiver of the overpayment. You can get the waiver form by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and asking for form SSA-632. If the waiver is granted, you don’t have to repay the overpayment.

Social Security may make a mistake, or make a decision without knowing all the facts. If you think the amount of your overpayment is incorrect or that you do not have any overpayment, you have the right to appeal. You should appeal right away if you’re going to. If you appeal within 10 days of the date the notice was sent, your checks will keep coming until Social Security decides on the appeal.

Can I get my SSI benefit by direct deposit?

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Yes. Social Security encourages you to have your SSI benefit deposited directly into your bank account if possible.

Does SSI get me access to health coverage?

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Yes. If you’re eligible for SSI, you’ll most likely be eligible for Medical Assistance (MA) - the federal Medicaid health coverage program in Minnesota. You have to apply for MA.

Once you’re approved for SSI, the easiest way to apply for MA is in person at your county human services agency or by filing a paper application.

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

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If you’re on SSI and go back to work, your Medical Assistance (MA) coverage can continue even after your earnings have reduced your SSI payment to zero. Depending on your income and resource levels, MA coverage can continue either through SSI’s 1619(b) work incentive or through Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD).

If you lose one health coverage option, there should be another one you can get. If you lose your current coverage, you should either become eligible for employer-sponsored coverage, another public coverage program, 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.

I’m on both SSI and SSDI. How do these programs work together?

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You can be on SSI and SSDI at the same time if your SSDI benefit is low enough. Benefits from SSDI and many other sources are counted as unearned income when calculating your SSI benefit. After the first $20, every dollar in unearned income makes your SSI go down by a dollar.