this window to return to course.


The Supplemental Security Income program is not a social

insurance program, and therefore there is no work requirement to

be eligible for SSI. Instead, the SSI program is intended to

provide a minimum level of monthly income for persons who are

either aged, disabled, or blind, and who have economic need,

meaning that they have very little income or resources.


A good way of thinking about the SSI program is as a welfare

program, which is funded through the general revenues of the

federal treasury. Another way to keep in mind how the SSI

program works, consider its name. It's intended to supplement

any other income a person has from other sources. By law,

individuals are required to apply for any other benefits that

they may be eligible for. And then depending on the level of

the income from these other benefits, they may be supplemented

by some amount of an SSI cash benefit.


Let's talk about the eligibility for SSI. I think while this

program is focused on looking at a person when they go to work

and what impact that has on their benefits, I think it is

important to talk about the eligibility criteria for the program

just briefly. Because not only does a person need to meet these

criteria initially to be determined eligible and to begin

receiving the benefit, but they have to meet the criteria on an

ongoing basis as well to retain their benefit.

There are three basic criteria that have to be matched.

First of all, a person must be either aged, disabled or blind.

Just because a person might meet the disability criteria to

receive services through the state VR agency or meet disability

criteria for another program doesn't mean that they are going to

necessarily meet the disability eligibility criteria, for the

SSI program. The Social Security Administration has its own

very distinct definition of disability that was established in

the law. Disability is defined for the program as the inability

to engage in any substantial gainful work activity by reason of

any physical or medical impairment that has lasted or is

expected to last for a minimum continuous period of at least 12

months, or is expected to result in death.


A cornerstone of this disability criteria is the SGA

consideration, which is substantial gainful work activity. So,

it's not enough for a person just to have a documented physical

or mental disability, but that disability has to render the

person incapable of performing substantial gainful work

activity. And SSA uses an earnings guideline and an earnings

amount that they designate as SGA. To be

determined disabled and therefore eligible for the program, a

person must not be engaged in substantial work at the SGA level.


The next criteria is that the person must have limited

income. And Social Security, when considering a person's

eligibility for SSI, looks at the income that they have from all

sources, both earned and unearned income. And they apply the

person's countable income in the income test that we will look

at in just a second. In addition, a person must have countable

resources that are below certain allowable limits to be eligible

for SSI.

Let's go ahead and take a look at income test first. To

understand the test for SSI, it's important to understand a

concept called the Federal Benefit Rate. The Federal Benefit

Rate, also referred to as the FBR for short, is established by

Congress in January of each year. And it represents the maximum

dollar amount that an individual can receive in SSI in a given

month. Likewise, there are a couple federal benefit rates,

which represents how much an eligible couple can receive in a

given month.


The SSA has a standard formula to determine whether a person

has countable income below the Federal Benefit Rate and is

therefore eligible based on the income test. Basically what

happens is they start by taking the Federal Benefit Rate for the

current year, $579 for this year. They will subtract from that

any countable earned and unearned income that the person has.

Basically, the person must qualify for some dollar amount of SSI

to meet that income test.


Let's look at the resource test. SSA for the purposes of the

SSI program defines resources as any cash or liquid resources

that the person has or any real or personal property that they

own, that can be converted into cash and used to meet their

food, clothing and shelter needs. Now not all assets that a

person has are going to count as resources for the SSI program.

There are many resources that are not counted at all and others

that meet the definition as a resource for SSI, but are then

excluded. If a person has resources they should always check

with SSA and not just assume that they're not going to be

eligible. Basically, there are established limits for resources

that a person must meet. A person's countable resources must be

below these established limits. The limits are $2,000 for an

individual receiving SSI and $3,000 for a couple who both

receive SSI.

In looking at the resource test, when a person applies, their

countable resources must be below these limits. And on an

ongoing basis, SSA will look at resources on the first day of

each month, and they must have resources below the allowable

limits to be eligible for their benefits in that month.

Incentives by Susan O'Mara, available online: The seminar was produced by Virginia Commonwealth University's T-TAP project funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor (Number E9-4-2-01217). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,or organizations imply the endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor.