Understand Social Security’s Decision

Social Security usually takes three to four months to look over your application and decide if you should get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Once they've decided, they'll send you an award letter or a denial letter to tell you about their decision.

These letters can be confusing. If you have questions, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) or Chat with a Hub expert.

If you disagree with Social Security’s decision, you can file an appeal.

Apply for MSA

Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA) helps people on SSI have more income. If you are approved for SSI, you may also qualify for MSA. If you are single and living alone, you could get $81 of MSA a month. You could also get $15 a month or more in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Learn more in DB101's MSA article and DB101's SNAP article.

Understand an Award Letter

An award letter tells you:

  • How much you’ll get in SSI benefits each month
  • When the benefits will be paid
  • How much you’ll get in retroactive (past) benefits, based on the date you applied for SSI
  • When Social Security will review your medical condition again — usually three to seven years after you start getting benefits

After you get your award letter, your SSI benefits will go into your bank account automatically each month. If you don’t have a bank account, you can have your SSI benefits put onto a Direct Express debit card that you can use to buy things.

Understand a Denial Letter

A denial letter tells you why your SSI application was turned down. The most common reasons are:

Note: When you apply for SSI, Social Security also checks to see if you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If you get an SSDI denial letter, it doesn't mean you’ve been turned down for SSI. Read the letter carefully — an actual SSI denial letter says “Supplemental Security Income” at the top.

Filing an Appeal

If you feel that Social Security’s decision is incorrect, you can file an 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.
    • If you were already getting SSI and are appealing a change in your benefits amount or an overpayment notice, appeal within 10 days. If you do, you might keep getting the same SSI benefits amount until Social Security decides on your appeal.
    • Note: Social Security figures that you get a letter within five days after they sent it.
  • 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 (familiar with you and with the SSI program) represent you during the appeal process. You can choose to do it yourself, but if you get help, you may be more likely to win your appeal.

Note: If your SSI application 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 the date you first applied. If you refile, any benefits you get will be based on your new application date and you will not get any past benefits you might have gotten.

The appeal process

There are four levels to the appeal process. If you do not agree with the result at any level, you can appeal to the next. The four levels are:

  1. Reconsideration: A person at Social Security who wasn’t involved in the first decision looks at your application. This is a written appeal, so you don’t have to go in front of a judge. Give Social Security any new information you have about your case.
  2. Hearing: If the reconsideration is denied, you can ask for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. You can bring witnesses to help make your case. Consider having an attorney or representative help you.
  3. Appeals Council: Social Security’s Appeals Council will review your case if you appeal the Administrative Law Judge’s decision. The Council can accept the judge’s decision, decide the case for itself, or send it back to a different Administrative Law Judge for another hearing.
  4. Federal Court: If the Appeals Council decides against you, you can file a lawsuit in federal court.

For any level beyond the reconsideration, you may want to get help from a lawyer. To get help from somebody in your area, contact an agency listed in the Social Security Benefits Advocacy Directory or Chat with a Hub expert.