What Is SSI (Supplemental Security Income?)
One recurring Teabagger meme is that Social Security is entitling people and paying them benefits who never worked or contributed a cent to Social Security. Another way they say it is that Social Security is paying illegal aliens. All of this is not true. This is repeated often enough that it probably qualifies as a “Big Lie.” A lot of people at the willfully ignorant end of the political spectrum (which, unsurprisingly, corresponds with the extreme right wing accepts this meme as true, and what’s more, blames Obama for it. It seemed to me that it was time for me to write a bit about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and to try and educate people a little bit about this program which is not as well known as is Social Security.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federally administered cash assistance program for the aged, blind, or disabled. It pays a stipend to these individuals who have limited income and resources, and who meet other eligibility criteria. The basic rate, called the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) for 2011 is $674.00.
SSI has been in existence since January, 1974. The legislation creating the program was a result of President Nixon’s effort to reform the nation’s welfare programs. At that time, each state had similar programs called Aid to the Blind, Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled, and Aid to the Aged. Each state had different rules, disability criteria, and payment amounts, which many, including the Nixon Administration, felt were irrational or unfair. President Nixon thought these programs should be federalized and run by the Social Security Administration. Thus, SSI was created. President Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972 on October 30, 1972 which created the SSI Program.
As of January 2011, there were 7.7 million SSI recipients, up from 7.5 million in January 2010. The total amount paid to SSI recipients in calendar year 2010 was $47.8 billion, up from $45.9 billion in calendar year 2009. Compare this to Social Security, which had 53 million beneficiaries in 2009 and paid a total of $675 billion to them during that year.
SSI reveals its original State roots in one area. The individual states are permitted to add extra cash to SSI recipients who reside in those states. This provision is called Optional State Supplementation (OSS.) Fifteen States (1) give their OSS money to the Social Security Administration to administer for them. SSA adds the appropriate OSS amount to each recipient’s FBR and pays a combined payment. The states determine the eligibility criteria for OSS payments and their amounts, and SSA takes full responsibility for administering them correctly. This additional cash from these states is also referred to as the State Supplemental Payment (SSP,) particularly when dealing with individual recipients. Thirty states (2) pay extra cash to SSI recipients directly, without involving the SSA in any way. The remaining six states (3) states do not pay any additional cash.
Who Is Eligible?
In order to be eligible to receive SSI payments, an individual must prove the following:
* He must be aged (age 65 or older), blind, or disabled. (See next section)
* He must be a US citizen, either by birth or by naturalization, or else be an aliens “lawfully admitted for permanent residence” (LAPR.) Certain other aliens are also eligible in rare circumstances. Undocumented aliens, or if you teabaggers and wingnuts prefer, illegal aliens, are not eligible for SSI. Another right wing Republican meme shown for the lie it is.
* He must legally reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Northern Mariana Islands, or else be the child of military parent(s) assigned to permanent duty outside of the US, or else be a student (certain restrictions apply) temporarily abroad. I never in 22 years saw anyone in either of the last two groups.
* He must have income and resources within certain limits (this will be discussed in future Primer articles.)
* He must have filed an application for payments. There is no retroactivity in SSI.
There is no work requirement for SSI, as there is for Social Security. An applicant does not need to have 40 quarters of coverage, or any quarters at all.
Who, Despite Meeting All The Above Criteria, Is Not Eligible For SSI?
Certain individuals may meet all the above criteria, but still would be ineligible for SSI. Some causes of ineligibility are:
* Residency in a public institution (such as a correctional facility or a government hospital not paid by Medicaid, etc.) throughout an entire month.
* Failure to apply for all other benefits for which they may be eligible (including Social Security benefits.)
* Has an unsatisfied warrant or has violated parole conditions.
* Failure to give SSA permission to contact any financial institution for financial records, or to provide information or documentation required by SSA to process the claim.
* Absence from US for 30 consecutive days (with some exclusions). Ineligibility continues until US residency has been reestablished for 30 consecutive days.
There are other factors which can cause ineligibility, but these are the main ones.
Aged, Blind, Or Disabled
Aged Individuals are those over 65 years of age. Applicants for SSI payments on age must submit adequate proof of age, under basically the same rules that Social Security uses to establish age for its beneficiaries.
Disabled Individuals are those who meet the same definition of disability as Social Security used for SSDI beneficiaries, which is:
* the individual has a medically determinable physical or mental inpairment; and
* which is expected to last at least one year or result in death.
Blind Individuals are those who meet the definition of “statutory blindness,” meaning the individual:
* has central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a corrective lens; or
* has a limitation in the field of vision in the better eye, so that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees. (This is sometimes colloquially referred to as “tunnel vision”)
Again, this is the same definition of blindness that Social Security uses for its blindness determinations.
(1) Federally-administered SSP’s: California. Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont
(2) State-administered OSS Payments: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
(3) States which do not participate in the OSS provision: Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia.