DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What can you tell me about the Supplemental Security Income program and what are the eligibility requirements? My father is very low-income, so I’m wondering if this is something he may qualify for.
— Searching Daughter
DEAR SEARCHING: Supplemental Security Income (or SSI) is a program administered by the Social Security Administration that provides monthly cash benefits to people that are disabled or older than 65 based on financial need. Currently, more than 8 million people are receiving SSI benefits. Here’s what you should know.
To qualify for SSI your dad must be either age 65 or older, blind or disabled, and must be a U.S. citizen or lawful resident. He must also have limited assets and income.
His assets must be less than $2,000 or $3,000 for couples. This includes cash, bank accounts, other personal property, and anything else that could potentially be converted to cash. His home, household goods and one vehicle, along with life insurance policies and burial funds valued under $1,500, do not count towards countable assets.
The income limit to qualify for SSI, however, is much more complicated. Countable income includes wages or any other kind of money your dad earned from working, plus money he gets from other sources like unemployment, Social Security retirement, or gifts from friends, but also, free food or shelter.
In 2019, the SSI allowable income limit is $771 a month for an individual or $1,157 a month for a couple. So, if your dad’s countable income is over the SSI allowable limit (this is based on a complex set of rules and calculations — see SSA.gov/ssi/text-income-ussi.htm) he would not qualify. But if he’s under it, he would qualify for some benefits depending on his countable income.
To help you determine if your dad is eligible for SSI, help him take the Social Security Administration’s benefits screening test at SSAbest.benefits.gov. This online questionnaire takes approximately five minutes to complete and screens for a variety of benefits, not just SSI.
You should also know that most states — except Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia — supplement the federal SSI payment with payments of their own. In some of the states that pay a supplement, your dad may qualify for the state payment even if he doesn’t meet the federal SSI eligibility criteria.
How to apply
If you think that your dad is eligible for SSI, call 800-772-1213 and set up an appointment to apply at his local Social Security office.
To help make the application process go quickly and smoothly, your dad should bring his Social Security number; birth certificate or other proof of age; information about the home where he lives, such as his mortgage, or lease and the landlord’s name; payroll slips, bank books, insurance policies, burial fund records and other information about his income and the things he owns; his proof of U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen status; and if he is applying for SSI because he is disabled or blind, the names, addresses and telephone numbers of doctors, hospitals and clinics that have information related to his condition.
For more information, visit SSA.gov/ssi or call Social Security at 800-772-1213 and ask them to mail you a copy of publication 11000 “Supplemental Security Income (SSI).” You can also read it online at SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-11000.pdf.
Other assistance programs
Depending on your dad’s income, needs and location there are other financial assistance programs that may be able to help him like Medicaid, prescription drug assistance, food stamps and energy assistance. To find out what he may be eligible for go to BenefitsCheckUp.org. This is a free, confidential Web tool that contains more than 2,500 programs.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.