How to apply for SSI | Step-by-Step Guide

SSI has benefited over 10 million people who are disabled, blind, or elderly and have limited income and assets over 45 years, but a lot of people still don’t know how to apply for SSI and can’t enjoy the benefits.

It was designed to augment the earnings of those who were ineligible for Social Security or whose benefits did not support a basic livelihood. 

So if you want to benefit from SSI, here is an overview of what SSI benefits are, eligibility requirements, how to apply for SSI, and tips to help you in claiming SSI benefits.

What is SSI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that offers monthly cash support to those who are disabled, blind, or elderly and have limited income and assets. SSI benefits were collected by roughly 8.4 million persons in December 2013.

In 1972, Congress established SSI to replace a patchwork system of federal funds to states for assistance to the elderly, blind and crippled.

SSI payments were “designed to augment the earnings of those who were ineligible for Social Security or whose benefits did not support a basic livelihood,” according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the program.

SSI has provided a minimal amount of income to people who qualify since its inception in 1974.

Many SSI participants have worked long enough to be eligible for Social Security, but their benefits are insufficient to qualify them for SSI.

Almost a third of adult SSI beneficiaries under the age of 65, and almost three-fifths of those over the age of 65, also get Social Security.

Read: How To Apply For Social Security Benefits At Age 62 In 2022

History of SSI

The number of SSI recipients has more than doubled since 1974. SSI has evolved from a program that primarily supplemented Social Security income for elderly folks to a more comprehensive anti-poverty program that helps disabled people of all ages.

For children and people with disabilities, SSI is becoming increasingly vital.

SSI benefits are received by a large number of children – 1.3 million in December 2013. Because a child’s handicap can impose additional expenditures on his or her caregiver, children with disabilities may be eligible for SSI.

Since 1974, the number of children receiving SSI has steadily climbed, peaking in 1990 when the Supreme Court liberalized the impairment requirements for SSI children.

The increase in children receiving SSI was impacted by reforms implemented in 1984 that increased benefit eligibility for the mentally impaired (and required many years to implement).

In the 1996 welfare-reform package, Congress tightened the SSI eligibility standards for children. However, the majority of SSI recipients live with a single parent and get special education; SSI payments account for over half of their family’s entire income on average.


SSI program guidelines encourage parents to work; one-third of single-parent families with children have a working parent, and two-thirds of two-parent families have a working parent.

In 2012, the vast majority of SSI participants — 86 percent — were eligible due to a disability, with 6 out of 10 disabled people having a mental illness. Since the program’s inception, the percentage of SSI recipients who are disabled (rather than elderly) has continuously increased.

SSI recipients under the age of 65, on the other hand, have been practically stable as a percentage of their respective age group since the mid-1990s.

And the number of people aged 65 and up receiving SSI has continued to decline, owing primarily to increases in Social Security benefits and restrictions on eligibility for legal immigrants who arrived after 1996.

As a result, even while the number of recipients continues to climb, SSI does not expand at a greater rate than the population.

How is SSI funded?

SSI is an entitlement program that is available to everyone who meets the program’s eligibility criteria.

It is paid from general revenues, unlike Social Security, which is funded by dedicated payroll taxes.

SSI, which cost little over $50 billion in the fiscal year 2012, is a minor part of the federal budget, accounting for about 1.4 percent of overall spending.

In 2012, SSI expenditures were 0.33 percent of GDP, and by 2037, they are predicted to fall to 0.23 percent of GDP.

Eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Before you know to find out how to apply for SSI, you need to meet all of the following requirements:

Be disabled, blind, or age 65.

Have limited income and resources.

Be a U.S. citizen or national or a lawfully permitted alien meeting additional requirements.

Reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands, except for a child of military parent(s) assigned to permanent duty anywhere outside the United States or certain students temporarily abroad.

Other factors may affect your eligibility, including:

  • Marital status.
  • Income and resources of certain members in your household, like a spouse or a parent of a minor child.

Benefits you’ll get from SSI

In 2014, the basic monthly SSI payout for an individual is $721, and for a couple, it is $1,082.

Beneficiaries who reside in another person’s home and get in-kind maintenance and support are eligible for one-third less, while those receiving long-term care in a Medicaid-funded institution are eligible for $30 per month.

Many states augment the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit, but state budget restrictions are limiting those extra payments.

When claimants have additional sources of income, however, their benefits are cut.

The first $20 per month of unearned income, such as Social Security benefits, pensions, interest income, or child support (known as the “general income exclusion”), as well as the first $65 per month of earnings (known as the “earned income exclusion”), are exempt from determining a person’s SSI eligibility and benefit levels.

Each dollar of unearned income beyond those criteria reduces SSI payments by a dollar, whereas each dollar of earned income reduces SSI benefits by only 50 cents — a policy designed to encourage work.

When decreasing SSI benefits due to earnings, the SSA also excludes some work-related expenses. While a tiny minority of SSI beneficiaries have earned income and a somewhat larger percentage have unearned income, the majority have no other source of income.

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Although an individual’s baseline monthly SSI payout was $710 in 2013, additional sources of income reduced the average monthly benefit to only $529 in December 2013.

Non-cash support may be available to SSI users. Anyone who receives SSI benefits is immediately eligible for Medicaid in most states. Food stamps are received by about half of SSI users.

Approximately a quarter of participants reside in public housing or get other forms of housing aid, such as vouchers.

Individuals can apply for SSI over the phone or in person at one of the Social Security Administration’s field offices.

The Social Security Administration will check the applicant’s identification, age, employment history, and financing qualifications.

When it comes to disability petitions, state organizations known as Disability Determination Services (DDSs) evaluate medical and other data to determine whether the applicant fits the legal requirements.

Essentially, whether he or she has a severe handicap that will last at least 12 months or result in death and prevents him or her from doing meaningful work. (Disabled children under the age of 18 have a slightly different definition.)

Individuals have multiple stages of appeal and the option of being represented by a counsel if the DDS initially declines their application.

Documents you need before you know how to apply for SSI?

  • Social Security number;
  • Proof of age (documents showing your date of birth);
  • Record of citizenship or alien status;
  • Proof of income (tax returns or payroll stubs);
  • Resources proof (bank statements, vehicle registrations);
  • Proof of living arrangements (lease agreement, property tax bill, utility bills)
  • Medical sources (medical reports, contact information of medical providers);
  • Work history (names of employers, hours worked, description of duties performed).

How to apply for SSI

To apply for SSI benefits, go to our Apply Online for Disability Benefits website and begin the application process online. You may be eligible for SSI benefits if you fill out an online disability application.

Make an appointment to apply for SSI by calling 1-800-772-1213 (or 1-800-325-0778 if you are deaf or hard of hearing). We will also take your telecommunications relay services (TRS) assisted calls at 1-800-772-1213 if you are deaf or hard of hearing.

To file for SSI benefits, you can make a phone appointment with one of our agents at your local Social Security Office.

Making an appointment for you or assisting you with your SSI application by having someone else call and make the appointment for you. See our chapter on HOW SOMEONE CAN HELP YOU WITH YOUR SSI for additional details; or

To file for SSI benefits, call your local Social Security office to set up a phone appointment.

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Difference between SSI and SSB

Many people who qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may also be eligible for Social Security benefits. The SSI application is a Social Security benefits application. In many ways, though, SSI and Social Security are not the same.

If you are “insured,” which means you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes, Social Security payments may be awarded to you and certain members of your family. SSI benefits are not based on your or a family member’s prior job, unlike Social Security benefits.

SSI is funded by regular Treasury revenues, which include personal income taxes, business taxes, and other taxes. The SSI program is not funded by Social Security taxes collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) or the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA).

SSI recipients in most states are also eligible for medical assistance (Medicaid) to help pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other health-related expenses.

SSI beneficiaries in many states are also eligible for additional payments.

Food aid may be available to SSI users. In some states, an SSI application also functions as a food assistance application.

The first of the month is when SSI funds are paid.

You must be disabled, blind, or at least 65 years old to qualify for SSI, and your income and resources must be “restricted.”

You must also be a U.S. citizen or national, or a qualified alien, to qualify for SSI.

dwell in one of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands;

Not be out of the country for a complete calendar month or more than 30 days in a row.

Similarities between SSI and SSB

Both schemes provide benefits monthly.

For people aged 18 and up, the medical standards for disability are essentially the same in both programs. Under SSI, there is a separate definition of impairment for children from birth to the age of eighteen.

The medical criteria are based on the degree of your condition; at this point in the eligibility procedure, financial need is not taken into account.

Both programs are run by the Social Security Administration.

Compassionate Allowances (CAL)

Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are a simple technique to discover diseases and other medical conditions that meet Social Security’s disability payment criteria.

Certain malignancies, adult brain problems, and a few unusual children’s disorders are among the most common.

For people with the most serious disabilities, the CAL program helps shorten the time it takes to get a disability decision. By utilizing cutting-edge technology, the agency will be able to immediately identify possible CAL and make judgments.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) receives information from the public, advocacy groups, comments from the Social Security and Disability Determination Services communities, medical and scientific advice, research with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and information from previous public outreach hearings on potential CAL conditions.

For further information on CAL, see

Is SSI effective

For a single person, SSI benefits are roughly three-quarters of the poverty line, and slightly more than 80 percent of poverty for a pair. While SSI alone will not pull someone out of poverty who lives independently, it will help to reduce the number of persons living in extreme poverty and relieve the strain on other family members.

According to an SSA research, recipients’ poverty rate (based on family income) would be 65 percent in 2010 if SSI payments were not taken into account; the actual percentage, including SSI, was 43 percent. The majority of SSI-recipient families remained below the poverty line of 150 percent.

SSI users have a high success rate in reducing the aggregate poverty gap, or the total amount of money required to bring a family out of poverty. SSI lowered the overall poverty gap by more than two-thirds in 2010.

Even after taking their benefits into account, more than two-fifths of SSI users live in families with incomes below the poverty line, and many more elderly or handicapped people in need of assistance do not receive any benefits.

The improvements listed below may improve benefit adequacy and SSI participation among eligible people.

Legal immigrants should be treated better. Until 1996, poor immigrants who were legal permanent residents of the United States were eligible for SSI in the same way as American citizens were.

Most non-citizens are no longer eligible for SSI unless they fall into one of three categories: lawful residents who arrived in the United States before August 1996, refugees and other humanitarian immigrants who arrived after that date (who can only receive SSI for a limited time, set at seven years), and ordinary immigrants who arrived after August 1996 and have earned 40 quarters of Social Security coverage.

In 2008, Congress temporarily increased the seven-year restriction for refugees to nine years, but this provision expired in 2010, resulting in the loss of benefits for thousands of poor refugees who had come to the United States to avoid persecution.

Increase the amount of money available for benefits. The basic SSI payout might be increased to the poverty level by Congress. The basic SSI award for individuals would increase from $721 to $973 in 2014 if SSI benefits were equal to 100% of the poverty line, while the basic SSI award for couples would increase from $1,082 to $1,311.

Lawmakers may also want to look into how SSI payouts are modified year to year. SSI benefits are currently updated to reflect inflation through a cost-of-living adjustment, but they are never increased to reflect real wage growth in the economy.

SSI benefits, in contrast to earnings, have stayed practically unchanged in real terms for decades.

A 2002 SSA study simulated how changes to the SSI program may affect older program participation and poverty status. The most beneficial — but also the most expensive — reform, according to SSA, was raising the income exclusion levels, which increased participation by 20% and reduced the aggregate poverty gap among the aged by 8%.

Read: How To Apply For A New Social Security Card

FAQs on How to apply for SSI | Step-by-Step Guide

How long does it take to process my SSI or SSDI application?

The length of time varies, but on average, it takes 3-5 months from the time of application.
People with severe disabilities who qualify for Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) will have their SSI/SSDI applications reviewed more quickly.
CAL applicants do not need to fill out any specific forms or follow any special procedures.

If My SSI or SSDI Application Is Rejected, What Happens Next?

Many SSI/SSDI claims are turned down. Find an advocate who is experienced with the Social Security disability policy to defend you if you believe you are eligible for these benefits and have been wrongfully refused.
The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives might be able to assist you. Call 1-800-431-2804 for a recommendation.

Is it possible for me to receive both SSI and SSDI?

Yes, it is feasible to qualify for both benefits if you have low income/resources and a job history.

What is SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and how does it work?

SSI is a government program that offers financial payments to low-income adults aged 65 and up, who are blind or disabled. “Disabled” for SSI purposes means you are unable to work due to a mental or physical condition that has lasted or is projected to last 12 months or result in death.

Where do I submit my SSI application?

The Social Security Administration is in charge of SSI (SSA). You should contact your local Social Security office to know how to apply for SSI and where to submit your application.

What criteria does Social Security use to determine if I am qualified for SSI?

To qualify for SSI, you must demonstrate that you are disabled and in financial need. To determine whether you are eligible for Social Security, you must go through a process.
First, Social Security examines your financial status, including your earnings and assets.
If you apply for SSI as a kid, Social Security will consider your parents’ income and assets. If you’re married, Social Security will consider your spouse’s earnings and assets. The next step is for Social Security to assess your impairment.

How much can I earn while still receiving SSI benefits?

The first $65 in wages and one-half of any earnings beyond $65 in a month are not covered by Social Security. Because of the earned income exclusions, a person can earn around $1,650 per month in 2022 and still be eligible for SSI (though the monthly payment is reduced when you have countable income).

How to apply for SSI?

Visit the Apply For Social Security Benefits to apply online.


In conclusion, SSI is a cost-effective anti-poverty program that accounts for a modest percentage of the federal budget.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is crucial in alleviating extreme poverty among the elderly and disabled.

Policymakers, on the other hand, can take a variety of actions to improve SSI’s effectiveness in assisting persons who are unable to sustain themselves due to senior age or disability. 

You should know how to apply for SSI now.



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