Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.)

S.S.I. Law, Regulations, and S.S.A.’s Policy Manual

By: Executive Director, Will Lindahl

The legal framework for Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.) was established under 42 U.S.C. §§1381–1383f, and the regulations are detailed in 20 C.F.R. §§416.101–416.2227. Additionally, the Social Security Administration’s (S.S.A.) Program Operations Manual System (POMS) provides comprehensive guidelines for processing claims.

What Are POMS?

The Program Operations Manual System (POMS) serves as a primary source of information for Social Security employees when processing claims for benefits. The public version of POMS, which can be accessed here, is identical to the internal version used by S.S.A. employees, except for sensitive content and internal data entry instructions.

Overview of S.S.I. Eligibility

S.S.I. Eligibility for Persons with Disabilities

Eligibility for S.S.I. is contingent upon two main criteria: the individual must be disabled or aged 65 or over and meet certain financial limitations. The Resource Test is conducted once each month, while the Income Test accounts for any income received during the month. Additional eligibility requirements include

  • being a citizen or lawful resident or an alien meeting special conditions;
  • not being a fugitive felon, incarcerated, or violating parole;
  • remaining within the U.S. unless exempt due to study or military-related exceptions;
  • applying for all other available benefits, and
  • accepting appropriate treatment for drug or alcohol addiction if necessary.

Public Benefits Confusion

It is common for individuals to confuse public benefits since both S.S.I. and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are administered by the S.S.A., and checks are issued from the same source. Similarly, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (C.M.S.) is responsible for both Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Distinguishing S.S.I. from SSDI

SSI payments are typically disbursed on the first of the month or on the third if the recipient is dual eligible. If the benefit amount exceeds the S.S.I. maximum, such as $943 for the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) in 2024 or $1,182.94 for an individual in California, it may indicate SSDI rather than S.S.I.

S.S.I. Definition of Disability for Adults

An adult’s disability under S.S.I. is defined as the inability to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (S.G.A.) due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. In 2024, the S.G.A. amount is set at $1,550 per month for an individual.

Defining Disability More Broadly

Beyond the inability to perform previous work, an individual must also be incapable of engaging in any other kind of S.G.A. existing in the national economy, regardless of whether such work is available locally, whether there is a job vacancy or the likelihood of being hired. The impairment(s) must be the primary reason for the inability to engage in S.G.A.

Different Criteria for Minors

For minors, “disability” is characterized by a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations and is expected to cause death or has lasted or is expected to last continuously for not less than 12 months.

Monthly Cash Benefits

S.S.I. offers a monthly cash grant intended for food and shelter to those who are disabled, blind, or aged 65 or older. As of 2024, the federal maximum payment for an individual is $943 per month, with some states offering additional supplements. For instance, California provides an extra $239.94 per month, bringing the maximum S.S.I. benefit to $1,182.94 for an individual.

Automatic Eligibility for Medi-Cal

Being eligible for even $1 of S.S.I. automatically qualifies an individual for Medi-Cal under the categorically eligible provision.

S.S.I. Resource Test

S.S.I. sets “countable resource” limits at $2,000 for an eligible individual and $3,000 for an eligible couple. These resources are assessed on the first day of each month, and this Snapshot Test has remained unchanged since 1984.

Exemptions and Exclusions

The principal residence, including land and related buildings, is exempt from countable resources regardless of value. This exemption applies to various forms of ownership, including equitable ownership situations where a trust or the recipient who owns the home is paying a mortgage. Additionally, one automobile of any value used for transportation is exempt, encompassing a wide range of vehicles from cars to animal-drawn conveyances.

There are a total of 40 resource exclusions listed in POMS SI 01130.050, which cover a variety of assets such as proceeds from the sale of a home (if used to purchase another exempt home within three months), household items, personal effects, life insurance policies with a value less than $1,500, educational grants and scholarships, and burial funds and spaces. These exclusions ensure that individuals are not penalized for owning modest assets that contribute to their daily living and well-being.