To qualify for SSI, a person must be elderly, blind, or disabled and must have low income and limited assets. Certain citizenship rules also apply.
Age: 65 or older.
Blindness: 20/200 or less vision in the better eye using correcting lenses or tunnel vision of 20 degrees or less.
Disability: An adult qualifies as disabled if he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment. The impairment must be expected to result in death or must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 consecutive months. The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines being unable to engage in substantial gainful activity as being unable to earn more than a minimum monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses). In 2012, that minimum amount was $1,690 for people who are blind and $1,010 for others.
For a child to be considered disabled, he or she must have a medically determinable impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations.
Standards for disability are strict. A case worker in a state agency reviews medical evidence to determine if the applicant meets federally established criteria for disability. Disability determinations may be appealed to an administrative law judge in SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
Income limit: Monthly income, less exclusions, must be less than SSI's maximum monthly payment. In 2012, the maximum monthly payment was $698 for individuals and $1,048 for couples.
Asset limit: The asset limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. These limits have not increased since 1989. Not all resources count toward the asset limit. Certain items, such as a person’s home and usually his or her car, are excluded.
Citizenship status: An applicant must be a U.S. citizen or national or a qualified alien that meets additional eligibility tests.
As of 2012, the maximum monthly federal SSI payment was $698 for individuals and $1,048 for couples. All but two states, North Dakota and Tennessee, supplement this amount with an additional state benefit. Individuals may be eligible for federal benefits, state supplements, or both.
The maximum monthly payment is reduced with income, but SSI counts only some of a recipient's income in this equation.
SSI does not count the first $20 per month of a person's earned or unearned income (this income can be either the SSI recipient's income, or income deemed to him or her from an ineligible parent or spouse). SSI also does not count the first $65 of earnings in a month and half of earnings above $65 (again, this income can be the recipient's income or deemed income). These exclusion amounts, set in 1972 when the program was established, are not indexed for inflation.
Individuals living in someone else's home have their benefit reduced by one-third, to account for lower costs of living.