Supplemental Security Income  (SSI Benefits)

Supplemental Security Income or SSI is a needs-based program for people who are disabled, aged or blind and have little or no income or resources.  You must be a U.S. citizen or national, or in an eligible category of immigrants.

Who is eligible for SSI?

SSI is generally intended for individuals who have not worked, or worked enough, to become insured for Title 2 Disability Insurance Benefits.  This may include minor-age children or individuals who were once insured for DIB but have lost their insured status due to a prolonged absence from the workforce.

SSI disability may also be available to individuals who are eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits, but may only be eligible to receive a small monthly disability benefit check. In such cases, the claimant may be eligible for concurrent benefits.

What are the medical requirements?

The medical requirements for SSI benefits are exactly like the requirements for Disability Insurance benefits.  To qualify for SSI disability you must have one or more medically determinable medical conditions (which may be physical or mental in nature) that render you unable to sustain full-time work.   As with DIB, your condition, or conditions, must last for at least one full year and be severe enough to either prevent you from engaging in substantial and gainful work activity or satisfy the requirements of a listing in the Social Security list of impairments.

Most claims that are approved are not approved on the basis of a disability listing.  Rather, they are based on severe medical impairments that meet the above test of severity.  However unlike Social Security Disability Insurance, there is no work history requirement, and you do not need to have paid into Social Security.

At McGreal Disability Law, we offer a free initial consultation to explain how Supplemental Security Income works.

How much does SSI pay?

Supplemental Security Income provides cash to meet basic clothing, food and shelter needs. Benefits can fluctuate monthly based on events in your life.

How do I apply for SSI?

You can file for SSI by contacting a local Social Security office. This will result in an appointment being set for a disability interview.  This interview may be done in person at your local office.   If you have medical mobility or transportation issues, it may be done via a telephone interview.   Online filing is not permitted for SSI.

The reason for this is that SSI is a need-based program, meaning that your resources (assets and income must be evaluated to determine if you are eligible for SSI benefits.  This requires a person-to-person interview (which, as stated, may be done at a local office or over the phone) versus filing online.

Since you may not know in advance whether your claim will be for SSI or Disability Insurance Benefits, or may involve both programs in the form of a concurrent benefit claim, it may simply be more productive to call or visit a local field office which will sort out which program, or both, you many qualify for.

What Information will I need to provide?

At the time of your interview with at your local Social Security office, be prepared to provide the claims representative with all of your medical information: This includes:

The names, addresses, and phone numbers of all of your medical treatment sources, such hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics.  This is important to ensure that the disability claims examiner will not have any difficulty obtaining your records (the time it takes to obtain medical records usually signifies the single largest delay in the early stages of your case).

Remember, Social Security has to be able to obtain your medical information and they can only do this by gathering medical treatment records from your various medical providers.

Also, because SSI is a needs-based disability program, you should be prepared to answer questions about your financial situation.  All needs-based programs are based upon two things: resources (assets) and income.  When you complete your application for SSI disability benefits, a claims representative will ask you questions about the following:

  • Your wages if you are still working,
  • Any property you may own,
  • Vehicles you may own,
  • Bank account balances, and
  • Retirement benefits you might have.

For SSI disability purposes, the highest valued vehicle and the home you live in are exempt from the resource limit.  However, any additional vehicles, homes, land, 401Ks, stocks, etc, are counted against a $2000.00 limit for single individuals and a $3000.00 limit for couples.  Income limits are somewhat different because they are variable depending upon household composition.

If you are under the income and resource limits of the SSI disability program, the claims representative will gather your medical information for your disability folder.  Once you complete the interview, your disability claim will be sent to the state disability agency for a decision.

Who makes the decision on an SSI disability application?

Although your SSI claim is filed at a local Social Security office, the SSA office does not actually render the decision.  All states have disability agencies that process medical decisions for Social Security.  In Illinois, it’s the Disability Determination Services (DDS).  When your claim reaches the DDS, it is assigned to a disability examiner.

Requests for records are usually made the same day that an examiner receives a case from the Social Security office.  The examiner may also schedule additional medical examinations called consultative examinations when disability applicants have insufficient medical information or their medical information is out of date.   Once all records are received, the examiner will review your case for a decision.

How long does it take for an SSI decision?

Once there is enough medical information and work history information in the disability file, the disability examiner will make a disability decision.  In most cases, the initial decision on an SSI claim will be made within 90 to 120 days.  When cases take much longer than this, it is usually because the disability examiner has had difficulty getting the medical records from the treatment sources listed by the claimant.

The chances of being denied or approved for SSI

Although, statistics vary from state to state and from year to year, the national average for denials has historically been of over 70 percent, and is growing each year.  The high rate of denial will, for the majority of claimants, make it necessary to pursue the disability appeal process.

If approved, SSI benefits cannot begin prior to the date of filing.  However, as with Social Security Disability Insurance, the process can be long and frustrating.  Most applicants are initially denied.

Why are SSI claims denied?

In the majority of cases, applicants are denied because they don’t understand what medical documentation the Social Security Administration needs.  The SSI filing and appeal process is complex and the Social Security Administration offers little help to applicants.  An experienced Social Security Disability attorney can help you with this process.


For more information call McGreal Disability Law at (312) 906-9444 for a free consultation regarding your particular situation