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SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME (SSI)

What is SSI?

SSI is short for Supplemental Security Income. This is a federally funded program administered through the Social Security Administration. It is based solely on need. It pays monthly checks to people who are 65 or older, or blind, or have a disability and who do not own much or have a lot of income. SSI isn't just for adults. Monthly checks can go to disabled and blind children. People who receive SSI will generally also be eligible for food stamps. A person who receives SSI is automatically eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid helps pay doctor and hospital bills.

Who Can Get SSI?

To get SSI, you must be financially needy and 65 or older or blind or disabled.

Blind means you are either totally blind or have very poor eyesight. Children as well as adults can get benefits because of blindness.

Disabled means you have a physical or mental problem that keeps you from working and is expected to last as least a year or to result in death. Children as well as adults can get benefits because of disability. When deciding if a child is disabled, Social Security looks at how his or her disability effects everyday life. For more information about benefits for children, contact any Social Security office to ask for the booklet, Social Security and SSI Benefits for Children with Disabilities (Publication No. 0510026).

Sometimes, a person whose sight is not poor enough to qualify for benefits as a blind person may be able to get checks as a disabled person if his or her overall condition prevents him or her from working; or in the case of a child, if his or her condition seriously limits activities.

How Much Can You Get?

It depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. However, many states add money to the basic check. You can call the Social Security Administration ("SSA") at 1-800-772-1213 to find out the amounts for Michigan.

Your first month's SSI check may be for less than a month. That's because you will be paid only for the days since you applied for SSI. Starting with the second month, you will get your full check.

MAXIMUM PAYMENT AMOUNT IN MICHIGAN (2004)
65+ AGED BLIND DISABLED
Individual $564 $564 $564
Couple $846 $846 $846

RULES FOR GETTING SSI

Your Income And The Things You Own

Whether you can get SSI also depends on what you own and how much income you have. Income is the money you have coming in such as wages, Social Security checks, and pensions. Income also includes non-cash items you receive such as food, clothing, or shelter.

If you're married, Social Security Administration ("SSA") will also look at the income of your spouse and the things he or she owns. If you're under 18, they may look at the income of your parents and the things they own.

The 1996 change of law denies aliens SSI benefits and increases the difficulty for children to receive SSI benefits.

Income

SSA looks at net countable income.

The amount of income you can have each month and still get SSI depends partly on where you live. In Michigan if your income is below the limit (monthly benefit level) then you will qualify for SSI benefit dollars to raise your total income up to the monthly benefit amount.

Social Security doesn't count all of your income when it decides if you can get SSI. For example, it doesn't count:

  • The first $20 of most income received in a month;
  • The first $65 a month; you earn from working and half the amount over $65;
  • Food stamps;
  • Most food, clothing, or shelter you get from private nonprofit organizations; or
  • Most home energy assistance.
  • If you are a student, some of your wages or scholarships you receive may not count.
  • If you are disabled but work, Social Security does not count any wages you use to pay for items or services you need to work because of your disability. For example, if you need a wheelchair, the wages you use to pay for the wheelchair don't count as income.
  • Also, Social Security does not count any wages a blind person uses to pay expenses that are caused by working. For example, if a blind person uses wages to pay for transportation to and from work, the transportation cost isn't counted as income.
  • If you are disabled or blind, some of the income you use (or save) for training or to buy things you need to work or earn more money may not count.
INCOME & RESOURCES CHART
INDIVIDUAL COUPLES
$2,000 in resources $3,000 in resources
$584/mo unearned income $866/mo unearned income
$1,213/mo income from work $1,777/mo income from work

The Things You Own

The things you own that are considered include items such as non-homestead real estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, cash, and stocks and bonds.

A person may be able to get SSI with items worth up to $2,000. A couple may be able to get SSI with items worth up to $3,000. If you own property or another resource that you are trying to sell, you may be able to get SSI while trying to sell it.

Social Security doesn't count everything you own. For example:

  • The home you live in and the land it's on do not count.
  • Your personal and household goods up to $2,000 and life insurance policies with a cash surrender value under $1,500.
  • Your car usually does not count.
  • Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family do not count..
  • Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse may not count.
  • f you are blind or have a disability, some items may not count if you plan to use them to work or earn extra income.

You may sell for less than fair market value or give away your assets to qualify for SSI, but this will create eligibility problems for Medicaid if you or your spouse needs to go into a nursing home during the next three (3) years.

A Special Note for People Who Are Blind Or Have A Disability

If you work, there are special rules to help you. You may be able to keep getting some money from SSI while you work. But as you earn more money, your SSI checks may go down or stop. Even if your SSI checks stop, you may be able to keep your Medicaid coverage.

You also may be able to set aside some of your money for a work goal or to go to school. The people at Social Security can tell you how to do this. The money you set aside doesn't count toward the SSI limits on income and the things you own. That means it won't reduce the amount of your SSI check. If you're already working, setting aside some of your money might help you be able to get SSI.

Blind or disabled people who apply for SSI may get special services from their state. These services include counseling, job training, and help in finding work.

For more information about these rules, contact Social Security to ask for the booklet, Working While Disabled…How Social Security Can Help (Publication No. 05-10095).

OTHER RULES YOU MUST MEET

Before you can get SSI, you also must meet other rules.

  • You must live in the U.S. or Northern Mariana Islands.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen.*
  • If you're eligible for Social Security or other benefits, you must apply for them. (You can get SSI and Social Security checks if you're eligible for both.)
  • If you're disabled, you must accept vocational rehabilitation services if they're offered.
*Legislation is pending regarding eligibility by certain resident aliens for SSI.

If You Live In A Public Or Private Institution

People who live in city or county rest homes, halfway houses, or other public institutions usually cannot get SSI check. But there are some exceptions.

  • If you live in a publicly operated community residence, which serves no more than 16 people, you may get SSI.
  • If you live in a public institution mainly to attend approved educational or job training that will help you get a job, you may get SSI
  • If you're living in a public emergency shelter for the homeless, you may be able to get SSI checks.
  • If you're in a public or private institution and Medicaid is paying more than half the cost of your care, you may get a small SSI check.

Signing Up For SSI

How to Sign Up

It's easy. Just visit your local Social Security office. Call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 for an appointment with a Social Security representative who will help you sign up.

You should apply for SSI right away. This is because SSI cannot start before the day you apply.

Parents or guardians can apply for blind or disabled children under 18.

What To Bring

It can help if you have gathered the following things before you apply. However, even if you don't have all of the things listed, sign up anyway. The people in the Social Security office can help you get whatever is needed.

  • Your Social Security card or a record of your Social Security number;
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of your age;
  • Information about the home where you live, such as your mortgage or your lease and landlord's name;
  • Payroll slips, bankbooks, insurance policies, car registration, burial fund records, and other information about your income and the things you own;
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of doctors, hospitals, and clinics that have seen you.
  • If you want SSI checks to go directly into your bank account, you should bring your checkbook or any other papers you have that show your name and account number. Many people choose to have their checks sent to the bank. They find it safer and easier than getting their checks by mail. But the choice is yours.

A Word About Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits are also paid to people who have worked long enough under Social Security. Often, people can get both Social Security and SSI benefits.

Social Security pays retirement benefits, disability benefits, and survivor's benefits. Retirement benefits go mostly to people 62 years or older and their families. Disability benefits go to people with disabilities and to their families. Survivor's benefits are paid to the families of workers who have died.

Some Social Security and SSI rules are the same. For example, the rules used to decide if you're disabled are the same for Social Security and SSI. You must be unable to do any kind of work to be considered disabled under either program.

Other Social Security and SSI rules re different. For example, after SSA decides a person who has filed for Social Security disability benefits is disabled, they do not pay benefits for 5 months from the date SSA says the disability began. But they can pay SSI disability benefits back to the date the person filed his or her claim. There are also different rules for people with disabilities who want to go back to work.

About Your Social Security Number

SSA uses your Social Security number to keep track of your SSI benefits. But SSA knows that you might be concerned about the increasing use of the Social Security number for identification and record keeping purposes by businesses and other government agencies. Although SSA can't prevent others from asking for your Social Security number, you should know that your Social Security records are kept private unless the law requires them to give out some information (to the welfare office, for example).

This information is not a substitute for legal advice. If you need legal advice, see a lawyer.

If you fee you are being harassed, call a lawyer or your legal aid office.

Legal services of Northern Michigan can provide legal assistance to low-income persons in civil matters.

Click for free Michigan legal help and legal aid, or go to lsnmirp.org

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