How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income


Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal aid program available to Americans of all ages with serious physical or mental disabilities. Adults applying for SSI must demonstrate that a disability or disabilities prevent or severely impact the ability to earn enough money to live. Individuals who qualify for SSI don’t meet the “Substantial Gainful Activity” earnings threshold. Click Substantial Gainful Activity to learn more about SSA’s standard.

SSI differs from other Social Security benefits programs because it is income and needs-based. SSI also differs from the Social Security Disability program. For example, you aren’t required to have any past work history to qualify for these benefits. Review the SSA handbook here to learn more.

Children and Supplemental Security Income Benefits

Children must have a physical or mental disability, or combined disabilities, that limit the ability to function. If the child or young person’s disabilities require medical and/or mental health treatment and IEP accommodations aren’t enough to help him or her progress, SSI can help parents pay for tutors, caregivers, and other resources and services to meet the child’s needs.

How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income Benefits

You can obtain an SSI application at your local Social Security office or by contacting Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to request a hard copy application form.

It’s also possible to begin the SSI application for benefits online by clicking here. It will eventually be necessary for you to visit a Social Security office to complete the process, however. Social Security will provide a list of items needed to review your case. You will also need to have documents related to your (or your child’s) identity. If you’re a legal alien resident, bring proof of eligible non-citizen status.

In addition to a state-issued ID/driver license or passport, bring your Social Security card to the meeting. If you receive any Social Security benefits, bring your Social Security records to the meeting. To verify your age, bring an original copy of your birth certificate or other acceptable proof of your birth date.

Make an appointment at the local SSA office by calling 1-800-772-1213 (or the local office number if it has been provided to you) to discuss the application when you’ve assembled the required documents.

  • Arrive early for your appointment because most SSA offices are understaffed. If you don’t drive or have access to public transportation, make travel arrangements to arrive at the SSA office on time in advance.
  • At the meeting, present documentation regarding income, medical conditions, and other related items that support your case.

Essential Steps to Getting Approved for SSI Benefits

Supplemental Security Income is designed to assist low income individuals or families with income to assist the primary earner who is age 65 plus, disabled (physically/mentally), deaf, or blind. In order to qualify for SSI, you must verify income:

  • Achieve this step by providing the SSA office interviewer with income tax returns (at least the last two years’ federal and state returns), W-2 or 1099 forms, an employer’s statement or letter, or pay stubs.
  • Social Security wants to know your financial assets and what you own. Bring copies of bank records, insurance policies (term or whole life policies), savings books, or burial insurance records. Since SSA can directly deposit your benefits if approved, bring your bank routing number and checking or savings account number to the appointment.
  • Bring copies of your lease or mortgage statement to verify how much you pay each month. Provide the SSA representative with your landlord’s name if you rent a house or apartment.
  • If you’re a parent in search of SSI for a disabled child, document his or her current income if any.

The SSI needs test is essential to getting approved for benefits. Even if you/your child are severely disabled, Social Security rules state that SSI is a program based on financial need.

You must also provide proof of disability, including medical records, therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist notes and evaluations or diagnoses, and any letters or records that document the need for special services, including community health clinics or other service providers:

  • Bring a list of the doctors and clinics you visit.
  • A record of doctor visits and appointments is also helpful information to share with Social Security.
  • Before your SSA visit, ask your doctor(s) for a full medical survey that details all physical and/or mental limitations.

Since SSA pays for total disability and not partial or short-term disabilities, you must demonstrate that you (or your child) is unable to perform gainful employment-related activities. Accommodations aren’t sufficient to allow you to adjust to another type of work because the physical or mental disability/disabilities are lasting and expected to last a minimum of one year or culminate in death.

SSI Case Review

After your meeting with Social Security, don’t expect a fast response regarding your application for SSI benefits. It can take three or four months or even longer for your application to be reviewed and a decision to be reached. There’s no need to make weekly calls to the Social Security office to ask for a status report. Do plan to keep Social Security advised concerning doctor visits and new medical reports. Plan to fax or mail this information to Social Security until your benefits decision is reached.

Your child’s case may be accepted or rejected faster than your own. Regardless of the wait time, know that your SSI benefits if approved are calculated on a retroactive basis. You will therefore receive SSI benefits from the date you submitted the application—not from the date SSA approves it.

Supplemental Security Income Legal Assistance

You’ve probably seen many billboards and television commercials that tell you it’s important to hire a lawyer before filling out any kind of Social Security claim application. It’s true that the attorney will be paid only if your benefits application is approved. If you select an attorney that’s invested in your success, he or she can help you avoid an SSI rejection.

Unfortunately, there are many reports that say many lawyers offering assistance with your SSI application are relatively hands-off after the initial application is submitted. Even if he or she does little to nothing to help you get ultimate approval for SSI benefits, the attorney will be paid by Social Security from your benefits.

It’s possible to manage and complete the Supplemental Security Income application process on your own. Gather the information and documents needed for Social Security to properly evaluate your case and your chances of approval rise. Once you’re approved, all the SSI benefits granted can be used for you or your family member’s care.