Important: We updated this article in December 2022 with the most accurate and current policy data available. Understanding how the Social Security Administration (SSA) awards Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits isn’t easy. The SSA uses its own internal definition of the word “disabled,” for example. What’s more, the income and asset requirements are also fairly confusing. For this reason, just completing the SSI program’s application for disability benefits can be challenging. But once you understand a few basic SSI eligibility facts, you may find the process a lot easier. Below, we’ll explain three things you must know about SSI eligibility before you apply.
How Is SSI Eligibility Determined, and Who Automatically Qualifies for Benefits?
There are two parts to SSI eligibility. The simple answer is that to qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits, you must fall under one or more of the following categories:
- Currently at least 65 years old
If none of these three qualities applies to you, then you aren’t eligible for SSI benefits. But these are the most basic qualifications the SSA considers in determining an applicant’s SSI eligibility. In order to get benefits, you must meet one of the above qualifications and:
- Have limited income (this also includes unearned income, like alimony or child support payments).
- Not leave the U.S. for more than 30 days at a time.
- Have access to limited financial assets or resources (see more about this below).
- Not live in a prison or institutional facility paid for with government funding.
- Be a U.S. citizen/national or belong in one of certain alien resident categories. Green Card holders, for example, may qualify for SSI. (Generally, any alien with an active warrant for deportation fails the SSI eligibility requirements.)
- Reside within one of the 50 U.S. states, Northern Mariana Islands, or District of Columbia.
- Not apply for other cash benefits or payments that might put you over the income limit.
Of course, there are exceptions to some of these qualifications. In general, though, meeting the majority of these requirements is how the SSA will determine your SSI eligibility for benefits.
What Does “Limited Income and/or Resources” Mean for Determining SSI Eligibility?
When you apply for SSI benefits, the SSA asks you to list all your income sources. These include paychecks, pensions, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment. But you may not realize the SSA also counts money you get from friends or relatives as “income.” (They may call it “in-kind contribution” if they deny you SSI benefits for this reason.) In 2023, the upper monthly income threshold is $1,470 for non-blind applicants.
Resources include assets that you own outright, or things you could potentially sell for cash to live on. SSA-defined resources include:
- Bank account balance(s)
- Stocks (including any dividends you earn from owning them)
- Land that you own in your name
- Boats or other recreational vehicles
- Personal property
- Life insurance policies
- Interest from savings or money-market accounts
If the SSA believes your total resources are over the allowable value limit, then you cannot receive SSI benefits. If you choose to sell any excess resources, you can start getting SSI benefits one month after completing that sale.
Important: Worried about your SSI eligibility because you own too many things? Don’t give away or sell any items you own for less than they are worth! This could disqualify you from SSI benefits for 36 months afterwards. Learn more about SSI eligibility rules that involve selling or transferring your assets for less than they’re worth.
What’s the Definition of “Disabled,” According to the SSA?
The SSA considers applicants aged 18 or older with a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment (including an emotional or learning problem)” to be disabled. In addition, your health issue(s) must prevent you from performing any substantial gainful activity (SGA). In plain English, that means you must prove you cannot work full-time and earn enough money to support yourself for health reasons. Finally, your health problem(s) must either:
- Likely result in your death, or
- Last for at least 12 consecutive months.
If your health condition is on the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) list, however, you may automatically qualify as disabled. The CAL process helps very sick or injured people “skip the line” and get SSI benefits immediately. If you think your condition may fast-track your SSI eligibility determination, view the full CAL list here.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Still have questions about disability benefits, or need help with your application? Sign up for a free phone call from the closest Social Security attorney available to help you today. All disability lawyers work on contingency. That means if you don’t receive benefits, then you pay $0 for legal assistance. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.