Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility

SSI pays a monthly check to people who have low income and are disabled or blind. To get SSI, you have to meet certain rules. Some rules are the same, regardless of your age. For example:

However, other rules change a lot depending on your age. The biggest changes involve:

  • How SSI decides whether you have a disability
  • Whose income and assets are counted when SSI decides if your income and assets are low enough for you to get benefits

How to Apply for SSI

You can apply for SSI at your local Social Security office or by telephone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). If you need help applying for SSI, contact a Social Security advocate.

Many people who qualify for SSI also qualify for Medical Assistance (MA), Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Chat with a Hub expert to learn more about these programs.

Eligibility Details

Our description of SSI eligibility below is divided into four parts. Click on the appropriate sections you want to read:

SSI if You Are Younger than 18

If you are under 18, SSI says you are a child and have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments cause severe limitations in your daily life, and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months

Not everybody with a disability automatically gets benefits. You must also have no other way to pay for basic expenses like food, rent, and utilities. If you are under 18, SSI decides whether you need help by looking at the money you and your parents earn and the assets you and your parents have, including savings accounts, stocks, and real estate.

Note: You can open an ABLE account where over time you can save up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Parent-to-Child Deeming

SSI counts both your income and assets and your parents’ income and assets when you are under 18 because they expect your parents to pay for your living expenses. This is called parent-to-child deeming.

If you or your parents make too much money or have too many assets, you will not get SSI. The exact limits depend on the size of your family. For example, if you live with both your parents and you have no siblings, the earned income limit is usually $3,981 per month and the asset limit is $2,000.

A complete table of income limits for families with a disabled child is listed near the bottom of Social Security’s SSI for Children webpage.

If your income and assets and your parents’ income and assets don’t exceed the limits, you will get a monthly SSI check. The maximum check you can get is $771.

Representative Payee
Almost all children under 18 have benefits sent to a parent or guardian. This person is called a representative payee.
Example

SSI considers your parents’ income and decides to reduce your benefit by $200 due to parent-to-child deeming. Instead of giving you a check for $771, they give you a check for $571.

If you live with one parent, and get child support from your other parent, SSI counts two-thirds of the child support as income.

Example

Your parent gets $300 each month from child support. SSI counts two-thirds of that and reduces your monthly SSI check by $200.

Sometimes child support comes in the form of food or shelter, instead of a check. In that case, SSI will figure out how much money that support is worth and count two thirds of it as income. In the case of food and shelter, your benefit check could be reduced by a maximum of $257.00.

If You Get SSI and Are Turning 18

If you get SSI and then you turn 18, the biggest change in SSI eligibility rules is that you are considered an adult, not a child. When SSI decides whether you have a disability, SSI will not use their definition of disability for children. Instead, as an adult, SSI looks at your ability to work, not just your physical or mental limitations. That means that some people stop getting SSI benefits after they turn 18.

During the first year after you turn 18, SSI will automatically check to see if they still consider you disabled. This is called the SSI Age-18 Redetermination. They will say you have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments limit your ability to work, and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months.

SSI may also look at your work and school record to see if you are able to work and may even talk to your teachers, counselors, or employers.

Disability determination and work at age 18

If you are going through the SSI Age-18 redetermination, Social Security may consider you to have a disability, even if you are working and earn less than $1,220 per month.

If you were not getting SSI before you turned 18 and you apply for SSI as an adult, Social Security may consider you to have a disability if you are working, but only if you make less than $1,220 per month, if you aren't blind. If you are blind, you could earn much more.

If SSI decides that you are not disabled because you don’t meet the adult definition of disability, you will no longer be able to get SSI. They will keep sending you SSI checks for two months, but then your benefits will end. In this situation, if you still want to get SSI you have two options:

  1. You can appeal. When SSI sends you the letter telling you that your benefit is ending, you have 10 days to request an appeal. During the appeal process, you can ask that SSI continue your benefits until they make a decision. Learn more about appeals.
  2. If you are participating in an employment support program, like Vocational Rehabilitation, an Individualized Education Program, a PASS plan or any other program approved by SSI that will help you get a good job in the future, you can apply to continue benefits through a special rule called Section 301.

If SSI says that you meet the adult definition of disability and that you will continue to get benefits after turning 18, these are things that could impact the monthly amount you get:

  • Parent-to-child deeming ends. This means that SSI will no longer count your parents’ income and assets when considering your eligibility for benefits. This may help you get a higher benefit than before you were 18.
  • If you or your family gets child support for your living expenses, SSI will now count all of it as income. This may cause your benefit to be reduced.
  • You living situation: If you live alone or pay your fair share of expenses as a roommate with others, your benefit amount may be higher than if you live with others who help pay for your food and shelter.
  • In-Kind support and maintenance: If someone else helps to pay for your food or rent, your benefit amount may be reduced by up to one-third ($257.00. This is called a Value Third Reduction (VTR).

If you have any questions about this, use DB101’s Chat with a Hub expert feature.

SSI if You Are Already 18 or Older

If you are 18 or older and did not get SSI before turning 18, SSI says you are an adult and have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments limit your ability to work, preventing you from earning Substantial Gainful Activity ($1,220 per month if you’re not blind), and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months

Note: If you are blind, you could be able to earn more than $1,220 per month.

Turning 18

Some people who get SSI before they are 18 lose it when they turn 18 because they don’t meet the adult definition of disability. Other people who couldn’t get SSI before they were 18 due to parent-to-child deeming may now be able to get it.

Not everybody who meets the adult definition of disability automatically gets benefits. You must also have no other way to pay for basic expenses like food, rent, and utilities. If you are over 18, SSI decides whether you need help by looking at your income and how many assets you have, including savings accounts, stocks, and real estate.

If you have more than SGA in earned income, or too much unearned income, or if your assets are above the asset limit, you will not get SSI. If your income and assets don’t exceed the limits, you’ll get a monthly check. The amount of money you get each month will depend on your income.

If you don’t have more assets than the limit and SSI sees that you don’t have any money to spend on your basic needs, they’ll send you the maximum benefit amount each month.

In 2019, the maximum benefit is $771. If SSI looks at your income and sees that you have some money, but not enough for all of your basic needs, they’ll give you less money than the maximum.

Keep track of your work-related expenses

If you work, you may have to spend money on things, like transportation, medical expenses, or accommodations, to do your job. If you have a disability, SSI may consider some of your expenses to be Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) and may not count the money you spend on them as income. If you are blind, the rules are a bit different and the expenses are called Blind Work Expenses (BWEs). Be sure to keep all receipts for expenses you think qualify as IRWEs or BWEs.

The bottom line: If you have IRWEs or BWEs, you may qualify for SSI even if you think your income is too high to get it. Or, you might get higher SSI benefits than you otherwise would.

Incentives that Help You Go to School, Work, and Save

SSI and many other government benefit programs have strict limits on how much income and savings you can have. If you go over the limits, you will no longer get benefits. The problem is that sometimes they end up preventing people from working and saving.

When the government realized that these limits were actually stopping people from getting jobs, saving money, and living better, they created work incentives like the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and ABLE accounts that help you earn and save money without losing your benefits.

Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

Usually, if you make too much money, your SSI benefit will either decrease or be eliminated altogether. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, which SSI calls "exclusions."

One of those exclusions is the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE). This exclusion allows students to earn up to $1,870 per month, and up to $7,550 per year, without having those wages count as part of their countable income.

Example

You make $1,050 per month at a summer job. During the school year, you also make $350 each month at a work-study job. Since the money you make doesn’t exceed the monthly and annual limits for the SEIE, your SSI benefit won’t decrease at all.

If you drop out of school, you will no longer get the SEIE, and you will get a smaller benefit than you would if you stayed in school. Stay in school! You’ll get more money thanks to the SEIE, and when you graduate you’ll get a higher paying job thanks to your degree!

In order to qualify for the SEIE, you have to be under 22, working, and "regularly attending school". That usually means you have to go to school more than:

  • 8 hours a week for college students
  • 12 hours a week for grades 7-12, or
  • 12-15 hours a week for employment training

Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

Usually, if you have too many assets or too much income, you will no longer qualify for SSI. Setting up a PASS is one way for people getting SSI to save money without having it count against their benefits eligibility.

To set up a PASS, you must qualify for SSI, have a specific work goal, and have expenses that you need to pay to reach your job goal. You must also show that you’ll have enough income to pay for your basic living expenses after you’ve set up your PASS.

There are a couple of big advantages to having a PASS:

  • You can use unearned income to save money, which means that you can start saving even if you don’t have a job yet.
  • SSI does not count the money that you put in a PASS account as income or assets. So you can earn and save more with a PASS without having your SSI benefit reduced.

The limitation is that the money you save with a PASS must be used for an employment-related expense. However, those expenses can include things like money for school, transportation, books, and services.

For more information, read DB101’s PASS section or contact a PASS Cadre.

Learn more about SSI young people who work by watching the short video below.