The Difference Between Social Security and SSI Benefits

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Many people have questions about the difference between Social Security and Supplemental Security Income-SSI benefits programs. SSA administers SSI, disability, retirement, and survivor benefits programs. The U.S. Department of Treasury then issues payments to beneficiaries each month. Taxes are used to fund these programs, but SSI is needs-based. Other Social Security benefits are determined on employment wages and earnings.

SSI provides supplemental support to adults and children who meet certain asset and income criteria. U.S. citizens and legal aliens who meet residency requirements may apply for SSI. Physical or mental disability, blindness, deafness, and other serious infirmities may qualify individuals for SSI after financial needs-based criteria are met. Older Americans aged 65 and over and children may receive SSI.

Social Security and SSI Differences

People who apply for Social Security retirement, disability, and survivor benefits are based upon employment credits earned over an individual’s lifetime. Retirement age and earnings prior to reaching an individual’s full Social Security retirement age are also factors used to calculate Social Security benefits. According to Social Security Administration, benefits are approximately equal to less than half of the individual’s earnings before retirement.

In contrast, people who apply for SSI aren’t required to have a work history or access a close relative’s Social Security credits in order to qualify.

SSI is a federal program for low income people and families. In 2016, the maximum SSI benefit is USD 733 for a qualified individual and USD 1,100 for an eligible individual and his or her eligible spouse. All individuals who qualify for SSI benefits are paid according to the current SSI federal benefit rate. This amount may change depending on cost-of-living adjustments, marital status, housing costs, and statement supplements/other income. Not all types of income reduce the SSI benefit. For instance, a tax refund isn’t considered as income for individuals receiving SSI.

Dependents of qualifying beneficiaries are treated differently as well:

  • A dependent may become eligible to receive Social Security after the qualifying individual’s benefits commence. It’s also possible for family members of the beneficiary to receive 150 to 180 percent of his or her Social Security benefits after death as survivors’ benefits. Former spouses age 62 or more may also qualify two years after a divorce is the marriage was at least 10 years’ duration.
  • SSI benefits don’t extend to the recipient’s dependents if he or she dies. A severely disabled, deaf, or blind dependent child of a parent or parents with limited financial resources may be approved for SSI. Children up to 17 years of age who have a Social Security Administration-defined mental/physical disability (who don’t earn income above the SSA-established amount) may also qualify for SSI income. After age 18, children must be reevaluated for SSI benefits.

Qualifying for Both Social Security and SSI Benefits

In certain cases, it’s possible to receive both Social Security retirement benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits if Social Security income and the applicant’s assets meet SSI financial parameters and medical/disability parameters.

Before submitting an SSI application, gather income statements from Social Security benefits, pensions, or other wages you receive. Include bank account, securities statements, or cash on hand to share with Social Security. If you live with another person and receive food and/or shelter from him or her, you must include this information in the SSI application. This is considered as “in-kind” income.

Tally the value of the assets you own. To qualify for SSI, you can’t have more than USD 2,000 in assets as an individual. If you’re applying for SSI with an eligible spouse, you may have up to USD 3,000.

Social Security Benefits vs. SSI Benefits

The Supplemental Security Income program can help make ends meet but, as you can see, qualifying beneficiaries may need to identify other programs to add extra stretch to the monthly budget. If you’re considering SSI and believe you meet the needs-based standards, ask about the SNAP! Program if you don’t already receive food stamps.

Many states also offer supplemental income programs (benefits of USD 10 – 700/month). If you qualify, it’s possible to receive state supplemental income and SSI. A short list of states don’t offer state supplemental income programs to residents. If you don’t live in Arizona, West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon, Mississippi, and Tennessee (states that don’t offer supplemental income), it’s challenging to determine the amount of SSI income you may qualify for. Your living situation may also affect how much money you receive in SSI benefits.

Contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to discuss your SSI application questions or make an appointment with the SSA office nearest you. If you already receive Social Security benefits, including Social Security disability, it’s possible to qualify for SSI in some situations.