OPA: Social Security Income (SSI)

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"SSI" a P&A Self-Help Publication

 

WHAT IS SSI?

SSI or Supplemental Security Income is a federal program that provides monthly financial assistance payments to certain individuals including persons with disabilities who have limited income and assets. The program, run through the Social Security Administration, is not financed from Social Security taxes or the Social Security Trust fund. SSI payments are financed by the general revenue funds of the United States Treasury.

An individual who meets the eligibility criteria for SSI can receive monthly payments in amounts up to $721.00 in 2014. Married couples (with no children), where both spouses are eligible for SSI, can receive up to $1,082.00 per month in 2014. Payments may be received by mail or the Social Security can deposit them directly into an individual's bank account.

Many states, such as Connecticut, have programs that provide financial supplements to individuals who receive SSI. The level of funding varies from state to state. For more information about the State Supplement program in Connecticut, contact your local Department of Social Services office.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE SSI?

Individuals with limited income and few assets who are 65 years of age, or blind, or have another disability may be eligible to receive SSI. Applicants must live in the United States or North Marianas Islands and be a U.S. citizen or be in the U.S. legally.

Applicants with disabilities must meet Social Security's definition of disability to be eligible for assistance. A disability is a "physical or mental impairment that is expected to keep you from doing any substantial work for at least a year or is expected to result in death."  Substantial work is considered earnings of $1,070.00 per month or more.

ADVOCACY TIPS:

Social Security will evaluate medical evidence from your physician, your medical records and its own supplemental testing to determine whether you meet the disability definition. You may be immediately eligible for benefits if you have one of Social Security's "presumed" disabilities. These include having two missing limbs; a leg amputated at the hip; deaf or blind; inability to get around without a gurney, wheelchair, walker or crutches due to a long-standing condition; cerebral palsy, Down's Syndrome, muscular dystrophy, diabetes with a foot amputation; severe intellectual disability and are at least seven years old; a stroke more than three months ago with marked difficulty in walking or using a hand; muscle atrophy with marked difficulty in speaking or coordination of the hands or arms; and AIDS.

Call your local Social Security office for more information about "presumed" disabilities and the application process.

CAN I RECEIVE SSI FOR MY CHILD WHO HAS A DISABILITY?

Children who are blind or who have disabilities may be eligible for SSI if they meet Social Security's definition of disability and fall within the income and asset limits. If a child is under the age of 18 and lives at home or is away from home but still under parental control, the income and assets of the parents will be considered in determining the child's SSI eligibility.

In 1996, Congress passed a welfare law that included changes in the SSI eligibility determination for children with disabilities. The law is designed to limit the number of children who will be eligible for SSI in the future. Social Security's new definition of disability for children requires the child to have a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked and severe functional limitations".  The disability must be expected to last at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.

Social Security has also changed the way it considers behavior problems caused by a child's mental or emotional problems. For more information about these new eligibility changes, contact your local Social Security Office.

ADVOCACY TIP:

Children with disabilities under the age of 18 who are deemed ineligible for SSI benefits because parental income and assets were too high, should reapply after reaching the age of 18. Social Security will not consider parental income and assets once the child has turned 18 years of age.

CAN I RECEIVE SSI IF I AM ADDICTED TO ALCOHOL OR DRUGS?
Yes and No. Public Law 104-121, signed by President Clinton on March 29, 1996, prohibits the payment of disability benefits under SSI to individuals whose drug and/or alcohol addiction is the sole basis for the Social Security Administration's determination of disability.  If an applicant who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can prove that another disability is the factor essential to the determination of disability, SSI benefits may be awarded based on the other disability. In other words, you can receive SSI even if you are addicted to drugs and alcohol but another disability has to be the basis for receiving the benefits.

CAN I RECEIVE SSI IF I AM AN IMMIGRANT IN THE UNITED STATES?
On August 5, 1997, President Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The Act includes provisions that restore Social Security benefits to legal immigrants. Now, legal immigrants who were receiving SSI payments on August 22, 1996 will continue to receive SSI payments. The Balanced Budget Act has also increased SSI eligibility for refugees, asylees and individuals whose deportation has been withheld from five (5) to seven (7) years. Legal immigrants who were in the United States on August 22, 1996, will be eligible for SSI payments should they subsequently become disabled.

NOTE: Legal immigrants who come into the United States after August 22, 1996, must wait five (5) years before they become eligible for SSI benefits.

ADVOCACY TIP:

If you are a non-citizen of the United States and you receive a letter from Social Security stating that your benefits will be terminated, you should seek advice or assistance from an attorney, a legal services agency or an advocacy agency.

Your right to appeal a decision made by Social Security is addressed later in this booklet. You may also contact your local Social Security office for information about your status as a non-citizen and appealing decisions made by Social Security.

HOW DOES SOCIAL SECURITY DEFINE "INCOME" AND "ASSETS"?
Income is defined as earned and unearned money that you receive, such as wages, pensions, and social security checks. Income can also include non-monetary items such as food, clothing and shelter (unless given to you by a non-profit organization such as a food pantry, church, or a homeless shelter).

Social Security does not count all of your income. Food stamps and the first $20.00 of general income exclusion received each month are not counted. Also, Social Security does not count the first $65.00 of wages earned h month and half the earnings over the $65.00. Other income that may not be counted includes:

  • Student wages and scholarships
  • Wages used to purchase disability-related items or services needed for work
  • Wages used to pay for the work-related expenses of an individual who is blind.

In order to be eligible for SSI an individual may have up to $2000 in assets. If you are married, the combined asset limit for you and your spouse is $3000. Assets are the possessions, belongings, or effects that an individual owns such as real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, art work, and cash. Social Security, however, does not count everything you own. The follow are examples non-counted items:

  • The house you live in and the land immediately around it
  • Your clothing, household and personal effects
  • Wedding and engagement rings
  • Your car, if worth less than $4,500 wholesale, outfitted especially for your disability, or if used for work or medical appointments.
  • Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family.
  • Up to $1500 in monies to be used for your burial may not count if they are in an irrevocable burial account.
  • Items used by persons who have disabilities in order to work or earn extra income may not count. (For example: computer, wheelchair)

NOTE: The income and assets of other individuals may considered for certain applicants. If an applicant is under 18 years of age, the parents income and assets may be used in the SSI eligibility process. The income and assets of the spouse will be considered for a married applicant. If a sponsored non-citizen alien applies for SSI benefits the income and the assets of the sponsor will be considered by Social Security.

HOW DO I APPLY FOR SSI AND WHAT PERSONAL INFORMATION SHOULD I BRING TO MY APPOINTMENT WITH SOCIAL SECURITY?
You can apply for SSI by visiting your local Social Security office or by making an appointment with a local Social Security representative who can help you apply.

ADVOCACY TIP: 

If you have difficulty reaching your local Social Security office, appointments may be made by calling the national Social Security information line at 1-800-772-1213 (voice) or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

The eligibility procedure for SSI can take a long time. You can help shorten the process by bringing the following items to the Social Security office when you apply:

  • Your social security card or record of your social security number.
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of age.
  • Information about the place where you live - your mortgage or lease.
  • Income and asset information such as bank books, checkbooks, payroll slips, car registration, burial fund records, stock certificates, and insurance policies.
  • Information about physicians, hospitals and clinics that you have visited including names, addresses and telephone numbers.

If you do not have all of the necessary papers for the application process, call or visit Social Security anyway. SSI benefits are awarded from the date that you apply!!

WHERE CAN I LIVE AND STILL RECEIVE SSI?
You can live in a variety of places and receive SSI benefits. These places include but are not limited to: apartments; rooming houses; group homes; shelters; parent or other family home

If you live in a public institution such as a state psychiatric facility (where Medicaid is not responsible for the cost of your care or a halfway house), you will not be eligible to receive SSI. Individuals who live in public or private institutions, where Medicaid is paying for more than half the cost of the care, are eligible for a reduced SSI check of $30.00 each month.

CAN I RECEIVE SSI WHILE I AM OUT OF THE UNITED STATES?
If you are absent from the United States for fewer than 30 days in a row, your SSI will not be affected. However, if you leave for more than 30 days, your SSI benefits will stop until you return to the United States and have been in the country for 30 days in a row.

WHAT IF I AM IN PRISON?
SSI recipients who live in public institutions, such as a prison, are not eligible to receive SSI.

WHAT IF I HAVE NO ADDRESS?
If you are homeless and do not have an address, you may still be eligible to receive SSI benefits. Your SSI check may be sent to a shelter, the address of a friend or relative, or you may have it sent to your local Social Security office. If you have a bank account with your name on it, Social Security may deposit your check directly into that account.

WHAT IS A REPRESENTATIVE PAYEE?
Social Security may determine that an SSI recipient needs help with money management and therefore, may appoint a person, called a representative payee, to accept SSI checks on behalf of the recipient. Representative payees can include relatives, friends, or agencies involved with the recipient. The SSI check is sent to the representative payee but the money belongs to and must be used to support the recipient.

ADVOCACY TIP: 

A recipient of SSI may challenge the determination by Social Security that a representative payee is necessary. The selection of certain persons as representative payees may also be challenged by the SSI recipient.

WHAT IF MY REPRESENTATIVE PAYEE IS NOT USING MY MONEY
FOR ME?

If your representative payee is not using your SSI money to support you, immediately contact Social Security. You can ask Social Security to suspend payments to your representative payee, to provide an alternative representative payee and to investigate your allegations of financial mismanagement.

WHO CAN I LIVE WITH AND STILL RECEIVE SSI?
You can live with: parent(s), roommate(s), spouse, young children, grown children who do not provide your complete support, or alone. If you move or your living situation changes, you should notify your local Social Security office. Social Security will determine if your benefits will change because of the change in your living situation.

WHAT IF SOCIAL SECURITY DETERMINES THAT I AM NOT ELIGIBLE FOR SSI?
If Social Security denies your application for benefits, they will send you a letter stating that you have been denied SSI and how to appeal the denial. You have 60 days from the date you receive the letter to file an appeal. Social Security assumes that you receive correspondence five (5) days after it=s dated, unless you can prove that you received it later.

The four levels of the appeals process can be found later in this booklet.

CAN I WORK AND STILL COLLECT SSI?
Yes, depending on how much money you earn. The amount of your SSI check is determined by how much other income you receive. When your other income increases, your SSI benefit will decrease. Social Security does not count the first $20 that a person receives from other sources each month, whether unearned income or earned income such as wages. The first $65.00 of earned income is also not counted by Social Security. Therefore, the first $85.00 of your wages will not be counted each month. One half of the money you earn over $85.00 will be counted and deducted from your SSI check each month.

Social Security has many incentives that allow individuals to work without losing SSI eligibility. These incentives include:

  • Impairment related work expenses - Social Security allows SSI recipients and applicants who work to deduct certain work related expenses that are necessary because of the recipients disability. These expenses may be deducted from countable income when determining SSI eligibility and payment amounts. For persons who are blind, the work expenses do not have to be related to the blindness. Examples of impairment related work incentives include, but are not limited to: personal care attendants; transportation; wheelchairs; computers; other assistive technology devices and services.  Note: There are special work rules that apply to individuals who are blind. Contact your local Social Security office or the national Social Security information line at 1-800-772-1213 for more details.
  • Recovery During Vocational Rehabilitation - If an individual with a disability is participating in a vocational rehabilitation program that is likely to lead to self supporting employment, SSI benefits may continue until the end of the program.
  • Sheltered Workshop Payments - All payments that an individual receives at a sheltered workshop are considered earned income. This allows Social Security to exclude more of the income when computing the amount of the SSI benefit.
  • PASS - Plan for Achieving Self Support - A PASS is a work incentive plan that allows individuals with disabilities to exclude some or all of their earned income as countable income for the purposes of SSI eligibility and payment determination. More information about PASS is contained in the next section.
  • Section 1619a - Social Security allows individuals to earn up to $500 per month before they consider the person to be performing "Substantial Gainful Activity" (SGA). Earning more than $500 does not does not stop SSI payments but triggers Social Security to examine whether or not you have medically improved and no longer need the program. Under a special program, Section 1619a, Social Security allows individuals to earn more than $500 each month without triggering the SGA examinations.  In order to take advantage of 1619a work incentives, the SSI recipient must:
  • still be disabled;

  • be eligible for an SSI payment for at least one month before working at an SGA level;

  • meet all other eligibility rules, including the SSI income and resource tests.

WHAT IS PASS?
PASS, or Plan for Achieving Self Support, is a special work incentive program for individuals with disabilities who receive or would like to receive SSI but would also like to work. A PASS allows an individual to set aside or save income and assets to pay for items related to a work goal. The income and assets that are set aside are not counted by Social Security when determining eligibility. Therefore, on a PASS program the individual can become eligible for SSI, increase the monthly SSI check, or retain SSI eligibility when income or resources have increased. Any kind of income can go into a PASS including wages, disability payments, or income of parents or spouse that is considered available to the individual with a disability.

A PASS can fund any item that is directly or indirectly connected to achieving a work goal. The following is a very short list of examples that can be funded with a PASS:

  • College or trade school tuition.
  • Tools and equipment including specially adapted items for a job or home office.
  • Computer and related equipment.
  • A vehicle and/or any special modifications to it.
  • Assistive listening, hearing and speaking devices.

A PASS proposal can be written by anyone, including the individual with the disability. Social Security can assist in writing the PASS and is required to help if requested. The PASS should be written on Social Security's form developed specifically for PASS proposals. The PASS written document must contain several items including:

  • A specific occupational objective;
  • A list of items to be funded and their cost;
  • The income/resources that go into the PASS;
  • Specific savings and disbursement goals;
  • A timetable to achieve the goal.

Social Security must review and approve each PASS before it may be implemented. The individual with a disability must comply with the terms of the approved PASS or must amend the PASS to reflect changes in the employment situation.

For more information about PASS or to obtain a copy of the PASS form, contact your local Social Security office or the national information line at 1-800-772-1213.

CAN I COLLECT SSI AND TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families)?
No. Because SSI and AFDC are assistance programs that help families with limited incomes, the income you receive from one program would make you ineligible to receive benefits from the other. You should evaluate each program and decide which will be best for your family.

CAN I COLLECT SSI AND SSDI?
SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance, is a program that provides monthly payments to individuals who have disabilities and who have worked and paid into the Social Security system long enough to receive benefits. If you receive SSDI payments, you can supplement them with SSI payments up to $20.00 above the SSI level. Remember, you are only eligible for SSI if you meet the income and assets limitations for the program.

WHAT IF SOCIAL SECURITY CLAIMS THAT THEY OVERPAID ME?
If you agree with Social Security's letter of overpayment, you need to contact your local Social Security office to make arrangements to pay back the money. Repayment arrangements usually involve a reduction in the monthly SSI check for a specific period of time. You may also request a waiver of overpayment, if you are unable to return the money to Social Security.

If you do not agree with the overpayment determination or if your waiver of overpayment request is denied, you may appeal the decision to Social Security.

HOW DO I APPEAL A DECISION MADE BY SOCIAL SECURITY?
If Social Security decides that you are not eligible or no longer eligible for benefits, or that the amount of your payments should be changed, they will send you a letter explaining their decision. The letter will also contain information on how to appeal the decision if you do not agree with Social Security=s determination. The appeal request must be submitted in writing within 60 days from the date you receive the letter. Social Security assumes that you receive the letter five days after it is dated.

There are four levels of appeal: Reconsideration, Hearing, Review by the Appeals Council and Federal Court Action. You have the right to be represented at each level of the process.

  1. Level 1: Reconsideration - A reconsideration is a review of your file by someone who did not take part in the initial determination. Most reconsiderations are a only a review of the file and you will not need to be present. If Social Security has determined that you are no longer eligible for benefits because your condition has improved, you may request either a review of your file or you may choose to meet with a Social Security representative to discuss the reasons for the decision and then review the case file.
  2. Level 2: Hearing - If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an Administrative Law Judge who did not take part in the initial determination or the reconsideration decision. You and/or your representative may come to the hearing to explain your side of the case, present and question witnesses, and to submit any new evidence.                          ADVOCACY TIP: If it is possible, you and your representative should attend the hearing and present any new evidence. If you do not attend, the Judge will base the decision only on the information in the file and any new evidence that you have submitted.
  3. Level 3: Review by the Appeals Council - If you disagree with the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, you may ask for a review by the Social Security Appeals Council. Although the Council looks at all review requests, it may decide not to review your case if it believes the hearing decision was correct.   If the Appeals Council decides to review your case, it will either decide the case itself or it will return the case to an Administrative Law Judge for further review. Social Security will send you a letter with a copy of the Council's decision to review or to send it to an Administrative Law Judge.
  4. Level 4: Federal Court Action - This is the last stage of the appeals process. You may file a lawsuit against Social Security in federal court if you disagree with the Appeals Council=s decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case.

CAN I STILL RECEIVE BENEFITS FROM SOCIAL SECURITY WHILE MY CASE IS BEING APPEALED?
In certain cases, you may request a continuation of benefits while waiting for a decision on your appeal. If you are appealing Social Security's decision that you are no longer eligible for benefits because your condition has improved, or that your SSI payments will be reduced or eliminated, you can request that the benefits be continued until the appeal is settled. If you want your benefits to continue, you must tell Social Security within 10 days of the date that you receive the decision letter from Social Security.

NOTE: If you lose the appeal, you may be required to pay back any money that you were not eligible to receive.

DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE REPRESENTED WHEN I AM DEALING WITH SOCIAL SECURITY?
Yes. You have the right to represent yourself or you may choose a "representative" to help you with Social Security matters. Your representative can be a lawyer, friend, relative or anybody that you choose to help you. Your representative can act for you and will receive copies of decisions made by Social Security.

For more information contact your local Social Security office or the national Social Security information line at 1-800-772-1213.

CAN I CONTACT SOCIAL SECURITY VIA THE INTERNET?
Yes, Social Security has a website that contains a variety of information including application forms, program information and the answers to frequently asked questions. Social Security's web address is http://www.ssa.gov.

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Content Last Modified on 1/29/2014 3:27:51 PM