2023 Annual Report of the SSI Program

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III. The Supplemental Security Income Program
This section presents a brief history and comprehensive description of the SSI program. This section also includes information on the administration of the program and coordination with other programs.
A. Background
Federal entitlement programs for the aged, blind, or disabled have their roots in the original Act of 1935. The Act established an old-age social insurance program administered by the Federal Government and an old-age means-tested assistance program administered by the States. Congress added similar programs for the blind or disabled to the Act in later years. Means-tested assistance provided a safety net for individuals who were either ineligible for Social Security or whose benefits could not provide a basic level of income.
This means-tested assistance comprised three separate programs — Old-Age Assistance, Aid to the Blind, and Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled. Despite substantial Federal financing, these programs were essentially State programs. Federal law established only broad guidelines for assistance. The Federal Government provided matching funds to support whatever payment levels the States established, with no maximum or minimum standards. Consequently, each State was responsible for setting its own standards for determining who would get assistance and how much they would receive.
Beginning in the early 1960s, this State-operated, federally assisted system drew criticism directed at the “crazy quilt”1 eligibility requirements and payment levels. Other criticism centered on specific requirements, such as lien laws and provisions that required certain relatives to bear responsibility for the maintenance of family members in need.
Responding to these concerns, Congress passed, and the President approved, the 1972 Amendments to the Social Security Act, which created the SSI program, and thereby substantially reversed the Federal and State roles with regard to means-tested assistance. Under the new program, the SSI mission was to provide a uniform Federal income floor while optional State programs supplement that floor. The new program was historic in that it shifted responsibility from the States to the Federal Government for determining who would receive assistance and how much assistance they would receive.
B. The Basic Plan
The main objective of the SSI program is to provide basic financial support of aged, blind, or disabled individuals whose income and resources are below certain limits. Congress designed the SSI program based on the following principles:
Incentives and opportunities for those recipients able to work or to be rehabilitated that would enable them to reduce their dependency on public assistance;
Appropriate coordination of the SSI program with supplemental nutrition assistance, medical assistance, and other programs.2
C. Uniform Standards and Objective Criteria
Prior to the SSI program, the eligibility of aged, blind, or disabled individuals for federally funded adult assistance depended on the State in which they lived. Benefit levels varied from State to State. The SSI program replaced the State-run programs, establishing a consistent national program. The following uniform standards and objective eligibility criteria apply to the SSI program:
Income and resource limit. If an individual’s income or resources go above the limit, the person may not qualify for SSI assistance. The countable income limits for individuals and couples are equal to their respective Federal benefit rates (FBR)3 and generally increase annually according to changes in the cost of living. For 2023, the FBR is $914 a month for individuals and $1,371 a month for couples. The resource limit is $2,000 in countable resources for individuals and $3,000 for couples.
Definition of disability and blindness. The definitions for individuals age 18 or older are the same as those used for the Social Security program. In order to be considered disabled, an individual must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last or has lasted at least 12 continuous months or is expected to result in death and: (1) if age 18 or older, prevents the person from doing any substantial gainful activity (SGA);4 or (2) if under age 18, results in marked and severe functional limitations. Individuals for whom addiction to drugs or alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of their disabilities are not eligible for benefits. In order to be considered blind, an individual must have central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens or with a visual field limitation of 20 degrees or less in the better eye.
Citizenship and residency requirements. To be eligible for SSI, an individual must be:
a noncitizen who was receiving SSI benefits on August 22, 1996; or
Only certain categories of qualified aliens are eligible to receive SSI benefits, including:5
Lawful permanent residents (LPR) who have earned or can be credited (from their spouses or parents) with 40 qualifying quarters of earnings. Qualified aliens in this category must also serve a 5-year waiting period in which they cannot receive SSI. This waiting period begins with the date they either entered the United States as an LPR or were adjusted to LPR status.
Certain immigrants lawfully residing in the United States for humanitarian reasons:6
Refugees (eligibility generally limited to the 7-year period after their arrival in the United States);
Asylees (eligibility generally limited to the 7-year period after the date they are granted asylum);
In addition, certain noncitizens are treated as refugees for SSI purposes:
Noncitizens certified by the Department of Health and Human Services to be victims of certain types of human trafficking in the United States7 (eligibility generally limited to the 7 years after a determination is made that they are trafficking victims); and
Afghan citizens or nationals (or individuals with no nationality who last habitually resided in Afghanistan) who: (1) were granted parole into the United States between July 31, 2021 and September 30, 2023 or (2) were paroled into the United States after September 30, 2023 and are either the spouse, child, or parent or legal guardian (of an unaccompanied minor) of a person described in (1). The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refers to these parolees as “Afghan Non-Special Immigrant Parolees.”8 Eligibility for these individuals ends on the later of March 31, 2023 or when the person’s parole period ends.
In addition to being a U.S. citizen or national or in one of the potentially eligible noncitizen categories, an individual must reside in one of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands. An individual also must be physically present in one of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands. There are two exceptions to the residency and physical presence requirements:
Students studying abroad for not more than 1 year also may continue to be eligible for payments if the studies are sponsored by a U.S. educational institution but could not be conducted in the United States.
D. Assistance of Last Resort
As a means-tested program, SSI takes into account all income and resources that an individual has or can access. The amount of an individual’s countable income and resources are the measure of their need for assistance.
1. Income
The Act requires us to consider an individual’s income in determining both eligibility for and the amount of a person’s SSI benefit. We first compute an individual’s “countable” income (i.e., income less all applicable exclusions) on a calendar month basis. We then compute the person’s monthly benefit by subtracting countable income from the applicable Federal benefit rate (FBR).9 Generally, ineligibility for SSI occurs when countable income equals the FBR plus the amount of an applicable federally administered State supplementation payment.10
The Act defines two kinds of income—earned and unearned. Earned income is wages, net earnings from self-employment, remuneration for work in a sheltered workshop, royalties on published work, and honoraria for services. All other income is unearned, including, for example, Social Security benefits, pensions, and unemployment compensation. The distinction between earned and unearned income is significant because different exclusions apply to each type of income.
In the SSI program, we count food and shelter-related items an individual receives as a type of unearned income called “in-kind support and maintenance” (ISM). We determine the value of ISM using one of the following calculations:
We use the Value of the One-Third Reduction (VTR) to determine the ISM value when a recipient lives throughout a month in another person’s household and receives both food and shelter from others living in the household. The VTR is equal to one-third of the FBR. This reduction is not rebuttable even if the individual can show that the actual value is less.
We use the Presumed Maximum Value (PMV) to calculate the ISM value in all other cases (e.g., the recipient receives free food but not shelter, or free shelter, but must pay for food). The PMV is the maximum amount we can count as income and is equal to one-third of the FBR plus $20. Unlike the VTR, the PMV is rebuttable. If an individual can show that the actual value of the food or shelter received is less than the full PMV, then we count the actual value of the food or shelter received as unearned income.
However, under the law, not everything an individual receives is considered to be income. Generally, if the item received is not food or shelter or cannot be used to obtain food or shelter, we do not consider it income. For example, if someone pays an individual’s medical bills or offers free medical care, or if the individual receives money from a social services agency that is a repayment of an amount the person previously spent, we would not consider these payments or services countable income for SSI purposes. In addition, we can also exclude some earned income (i.e. income from work) when we determine the individual’s SSI payment amount. For example, the principal earned income exclusions are:
Impairment-related work expenses of the disabled and work expenses of the blind;
Similarly to earned income, we can exclude some unearned income when determining an individual’s eligibility and payment amount. The principal unearned income exclusions are:
The first $20 per month;11
2. Resources
The Act also requires us to consider the value of an individual’s resources in determining SSI eligibility for a given month.12 In general, individuals who have countable resources, determined monthly, that exceed $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple) are ineligible for SSI. Our regulations define “resources” as liquid assets, such as cash, or any real or personal property that individuals, spouses of individuals, or parents of a child under the age of 18 own and could convert to cash for their support and maintenance; however, there are numerous and complex exceptions to this general rule.
If an individual disposes of resources at less than fair market value within the 36-month period prior to their application for SSI or at any time thereafter, the person may be penalized. The penalty is a loss of SSI benefits for a number of months (up to a 36-month maximum).13 The penalty does not apply if the applicant can show that the resources were disposed of exclusively for a purpose other than establishing SSI eligibility.
The principal resource exclusions14 are:
3. Filing for Other Benefits
As the “program of last resort,” eligible individuals receive SSI benefits only to the extent other income and resources do not satisfy their needs. After evaluating all other income and resources, SSI pays what is necessary to bring an individual to the statutorily prescribed income floor. In keeping with this principle, the Act requires that SSI applicants and recipients file for all other payments for which they may be eligible, such as annuities, pensions, retirement or disability benefits, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance benefits.
We must provide an individual with written notice of potential eligibility for other benefits and of the requirement to take all appropriate steps to pursue these benefits. The individual has 30 days from receipt of the notice to file for the benefits involved.
4. Eligibility Issues for Residents of Public Institutions or Medical Treatment Facilities
State and local governments — rather than the Federal Government — traditionally have taken financial responsibility for residents of their public institutions. The SSI program continues this long-standing public assistance policy. Individuals who reside in a public institution for a full calendar month are generally ineligible for SSI unless one of the following exceptions applies:
The public institution is a medical treatment facility and Medicaid pays more than 50 percent of the cost of care, or in the case of a child under age 18, Medicaid or private health insurance pays more than 50 percent of the cost of care — in these situations, the SSI payment is limited to $30;
The recipient was eligible under section 1619(a) or (b)15 for the month preceding the first full month in the public institution and permitted by the institution to retain any benefits—in this situation, payments are limited to 2 months; or
A physician certifies that the recipient’s stay in a medical treatment facility is likely not to exceed 3 months, and SSA determines that continued SSI eligibility is necessary to maintain and provide for the expenses of the home to which the individual will return. In this situation, the recipient may continue to receive the full benefit for any of the first 3 full months of medical confinement if the person meets all other conditions for payment.
5. Personal Needs Allowance
When individuals enter medical treatment facilities in which Medicaid pays more than half of the bill, the law generally requires us to reduce their monthly FBR to $30 beginning with the first full calendar month they are in the facility. In the case of an individual under age 18, the $30 payment amount is also applicable if private insurance or a combination of Medicaid and private insurance pays more than half the bill. In these cases, the SSI program provides up to $30 a month for small comfort items not provided by the facility.
6. Deeming
The Act requires us to count, in certain situations, the income and resources of others in determining whether an individual’s income and resources fall within the income and resource limits established by law. We call this process “deeming”; it applies in cases where an eligible individual lives with an ineligible spouse, an eligible child lives with an ineligible parent, or an eligible noncitizen has a sponsor.16 In concept, the practice takes into account the responsibility of the spouse, parent, or sponsor to provide for the basic needs of the eligible individual.
a. Spouse-to-Spouse Deeming
When an eligible individual lives in the same household with a spouse who is not eligible for SSI, we deem the ineligible spouse’s income and resources to be available to the eligible individual. In determining the amount of income and resources available to the eligible individual, we use all applicable exclusions. We also deduct from the income available for deeming a living allowance for any ineligible children under age 18 (or under age 22 and a student) living in the household, which reduces the amount of income to be deemed.17 Spouse-to-spouse deeming generally results in approximately the same amount of income available to the couple that would be available if both members of the couple were aged, blind, or disabled and eligible for SSI.
Deeming does not apply when the eligible individual is not living in the same household as the ineligible spouse. However, if the ineligible spouse’s absence is temporary or is due solely to an active duty assignment as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, deeming continues to apply.
b. Parent-to-Child Deeming
A child under age 18 is subject to deeming from an ineligible natural or adoptive parent (and that parent’s spouse, if any) living in the same household. Deeming does not apply if: (1) a child lives in a household with only the spouse of a parent (i.e., a stepparent); and (2) the natural or adoptive parent has permanently left the household. Deeming to a child continues if the parent is absent from the household only if the absence is temporary or due solely to active duty assignment as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. If a child lives in a household in which all members are receiving public assistance benefits, we do not consider that child to be receiving any support, and deeming does not apply.
In the deeming computation, we first exclude from the parent’s income certain types and amounts of income that are not subject to deeming. We then subtract a living allowance for each ineligible child under age 18 (or under age 22 if a student).18 Then we use any exclusions that apply to the remaining income (for example, the $20 general income exclusion), and subtract a living allowance based on the number of parents living in the household. Finally, we deem the remainder to be available to the eligible children in equal shares.
c. Sponsor-to-Alien Deeming
We deem the income and resources of noncitizens to include those of their sponsors.19 The way we deem the income and resources and the length of the deeming period depends on whether the sponsor signed a legally enforceable affidavit of support20 or the previous version of the affidavit. Generally, noncitizens who entered the country before 1998 did so under the old version of the affidavit.21
Under the old version of the affidavit, deeming of the sponsor’s income and resources lasts until the noncitizen has been in the United States for 3 years.22 The law provides living allowances equal to the Federal benefit rate for the sponsor as well as allowances equal to one-half of the FBR for each of the sponsor’s dependents. The law also provides allowances for the sponsor and their family members in determining deemed resources. These allowances reduce the amount of the sponsor’s income and resources deemed to the noncitizen.
For noncitizens admitted into the United States under a legally enforceable affidavit of support, deeming generally applies until the noncitizen becomes a U.S. citizen. Deeming ends before citizenship if the noncitizen has earned, or can be credited with, 40 qualifying quarters of earnings. Children and spouses of workers may be credited with quarters earned by the worker. A quarter otherwise earned after 1996 does not count as 1 of the required 40 if the noncitizen or worker received Federal means-tested public benefits during the relevant period.
For this group of noncitizens, deeming also does not apply for specified periods if the noncitizens or their children or parents have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty while in the United States or if sponsors leave the noncitizens indigent by not providing them with sufficient support.
E. Incentives for Work and Opportunities for Rehabilitation
SSI benefits provide a basic level of assistance for individuals who are blind or disabled with limited earnings capacity due to their impairments. Nonetheless, for recipients who want to work, the SSI program is designed to encourage and support their work attempts in order to help them achieve greater degrees of independence. The SSI program includes a number of work incentives that enable recipients who are blind or disabled to work and retain benefits or to increase their levels of work activity without the loss of SSI eligibility status or Medicaid. These incentives provide higher amounts of income or resource exclusions as recognition of the expenses associated with working or as inducements to seek rehabilitation services and support for work efforts.
The SSI program also includes provisions to help disabled recipients obtain vocational rehabilitation (VR) and employment support services. Legislation revised these provisions by establishing the Ticket to Work program, which we describe in section III.E.7.
1. Earned Income Exclusion
We exclude the first $65 ($85 if the individual has no income other than earnings) of any monthly earned income plus one-half of remaining earnings for SSI benefit computation purposes. This general earned income exclusion offsets expenses incurred when working.
2. Impairment-Related Work Expense Exclusion
We exclude the out-of-pocket costs of certain impairment-related services and items that a disabled (but not blind) individual needs in order to work from earned income in determining SSI eligibility and payment amounts.
In calculating these expenses, amounts equal to the costs of certain attendant care services, medical devices, equipment, prostheses, assistive technology, vehicle modifications, residential modifications to accommodate wheelchairs, and similar items and services are deductible from earnings. The costs of routine drugs and routine medical services are not deductible unless these drugs and services are necessary to control the disabling condition.
3. Work Expenses of the Blind Exclusion
We exclude any earned income by a blind individual used to meet expenses needed to earn that income from earned income in determining SSI eligibility and payment amounts. A deductible expense need not be directly related to the worker’s blindness; it need only be an ordinary and necessary work expense of the worker.
Some frequently excluded work expenses include transportation to and from work, meals consumed during work hours, job equipment, licenses, income or Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, and costs of job training.
4. Student Earned Income Exclusion
The student earned income exclusion is an additional exclusion for an individual who is under age 22 and regularly attending school. Under current regulations, we exclude up to $2,220 of earned income per month but no more than $8,950 per year.23
5. Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
A PASS allows a disabled or blind individual to set aside income and resources to get a specific type of job or to start a business. A PASS may involve setting aside funds for education or vocational training. A recipient can also set aside funds to purchase work-related equipment or pay for transportation related to the work goal. We exclude the income and resources that a recipient sets aside under the SSI income and resources tests.
The individual must have a feasible work goal, must have a specific savings or spending plan, and must provide for a clearly identifiable accounting for the funds set aside. We must approve the PASS; the individual must then follow the plan and negotiate revisions as needed. SSA monitors the plans by reviewing them periodically to evaluate the individual’s progress towards attaining the work goal.
6. Special Provisions for Disabled Recipients Who Work
This work incentive generally is known by its section number in the Act—section 1619. Under section 1619(a), disabled individuals who would cease to be eligible because of earnings over the SGA level may receive special cash benefits as long as they:
In many States, being a recipient of the special benefit permits the individual to be eligible for Medicaid benefits.
Section 1619(b) also provides “SSI recipient” status for Medicaid eligibility purposes to individuals:
To qualify for extended Medicaid coverage under section 1619(b) an individual must:
In determining whether individuals’ earnings are not sufficient to provide them with the equivalent benefits they would be eligible for if they stopped working, we compare their earnings to a threshold amount for their State of residence. Section 1619(b) status continues if the earnings are at or below the threshold. If earnings exceed the State threshold, we make an individualized assessment of the need for Medicaid and 1619(b) status may continue.
7. Vocational Rehabilitation/Ticket to Work Program
Since the beginning of the SSI program, State VR agencies have provided services to those blind or disabled SSI recipients whom they have accepted as clients. SSA has traditionally reimbursed the VR agency for services provided in situations where the services result in the individual’s working at the SGA level for a continuous period of 9 months and in certain other limited situations.
The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 established a Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program under which a blind or disabled beneficiary may obtain VR, employment, and other support services from a qualified private or public provider, referred to as an “employment network” (EN), or from a State VR agency. In addition, the Ticket to Work legislation provided that ENs would be compensated under an outcome or outcome-milestone payment system.24 By expanding the pool of providers and giving the providers incentives for achieving success, this program seeks to expand a disabled beneficiary’s access to these services in order to assist the beneficiary in finding, entering, and retaining employment and reducing their dependence on cash benefits.
The Ticket to Work program has been in operation nationwide since September 2004. Under this program, SSA provides access to employment support services to eligible individuals who receive SSI benefits due to blindness or disability. These individuals may obtain the VR services, employment services, and other support services needed to return to work or to go to work for the first time. The Ticket to Work program provides that as long as the beneficiary is “using a ticket” SSA will not initiate a continuing disability review to determine whether the beneficiary has medically improved.
ENs and State VR agencies are the only providers of VR services to disabled SSI recipients that SSA can compensate for those services. All ENs receive their compensation through the Ticket to Work program’s outcome or outcome-milestone payment system. Unless State VR agencies have elected to participate as an EN for specific cases, they receive compensation under the traditional VR reimbursement system. Any services provided by the State VR agencies to SSI recipients who are not yet eligible for a ticket receive compensation under the traditional VR reimbursement system.
Individuals who improve medically and, therefore, are no longer considered disabled or blind may continue to receive SSI benefits if they are actively participating in the Ticket to Work program or another approved program of VR services, employment services, or other support services. For benefits to continue, SSA must determine that continuing or completing the program will increase the likelihood that the individual will be permanently removed from the SSI rolls. SSI benefits and Medicaid generally continue until the recipient completes the approved program or the individual ceases to participate in the program.
In 2008, SSA revised the Ticket to Work regulations to enhance beneficiary choice and improve the effectiveness of the program. The revisions extended the program to all adult OASDI disabled and SSI blind or disabled beneficiaries, removed disincentives for ENs to participate in the program, provided incentives for ENs to support beneficiaries through a more gradual return to work and positioned ENs to better support ongoing retention of employment. The regulations also encourage partnership between State VR agencies and ENs to provide long-term services to a beneficiary by allowing the beneficiary to assign a ticket to an EN after receiving VR services.
8. Expedited Reinstatement
A disabled or blind individual whose eligibility for SSI payments ended because of earned income or a combination of earned and unearned income can request expedited reinstatement of SSI benefits without filing a new application.
To qualify for expedited reinstatement, the individual must:
To meet the requirement of having become unable to perform SGA, previously entitled beneficiaries must also not be able, or must become unable, to perform SGA because of the medical condition in the month of the request. In determining whether the individual is disabled or blind, the Medical Improvement Review Standard (MIRS) generally applies.25
An individual requesting expedited reinstatement may receive up to 6 months of provisional benefits while the request is pending. These benefits generally are not considered an overpayment if we deny the request. Provisional benefits may include Medicaid but do not include any State supplementation payments.
F. Administration of the SSI Program
The framers of the program chose SSA to administer the SSI program because the basic system for paying monthly benefits to a large number of individuals was already in place in the form of the Social Security program. Additionally, SSA had a long-standing reputation for thoughtfully and respectfully serving the public.
1. Application Process
Individuals can apply for SSI benefits through any one of the approximately 1,200 SSA field offices around the country or through SSA teleservice centers. Although many of the eligibility requirements for the Social Security program and the SSI program are different, the application process is very similar. Individuals typically file for benefits under both programs at the same time. As of April 1, 2017, people who file online for disability insurance benefits can also file for SSI online in certain circumstances (https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/).
SSA corroborates information applicants provide for SSI through independent or collateral sources. Generally, the basic responsibility for obtaining evidence lies with the claimant, although SSA frequently gives advice and assistance on obtaining it. However, SSA often provides applicants with extra help obtaining needed information as they often have special circumstances (e.g., financial need, old age, or illness).
With regard to disability and blindness claims, SSA determines the non-medical eligibility factors and each State’s DDS determines the medical eligibility factors.26
2. Determination of Eligibility for Benefits
SSI applications have no retroactivity and become effective in the month after the month of filing or the month after all eligibility requirements are met, whichever is later. Eligibility for payments in a month is based on resources owned as of the first day of the month and income received in that month, in addition to other criteria. We generally calculate the amount of the monthly payment using income in the second month preceding the month for which the payment is made.27 However, at the start of a period of eligibility or re-eligibility, we determine the amount of payments for both the first and second months using the income received in the first month.
3. Payment of Benefits
In general, we pay SSI benefits on the first day of each month. If the first of the month falls on a weekend or legal public holiday, we deliver benefit payments on the last working day immediately preceding such Saturday, Sunday, or holiday. Monthly benefit payments include both the Federal SSI and State amounts if the recipient lives in a State in which SSA administers the State supplementation payment (see section III.G.).
SSI recipient participation in direct deposit increased gradually in the 2000s after experiencing a period of sharp growth when it more than doubled from 24 percent in 1995 to 49 percent in 2000. Effective May 1, 2011, applicants filing for SSI benefit payments must choose direct deposit, the Direct Express® debit card, or an electronic transfer account (ETA). Effective March 1, 2013, individuals must receive their SSI benefits electronically through direct deposit, the Direct Express® debit card, or ETA unless they qualify for an automatic exemption (e.g., based on age) or are granted a waiver on the basis of hardship. Examples of such hardship situations include inability to manage an account at a financial institution or Direct Express® due to mental impairment or due to living in a remote geographic location lacking the necessary infrastructure to support electronic financial transactions. As of February 2023, 96.7 percent of SSI recipients received their benefits electronically.
4. Ensuring Continued Eligibility for Benefits
SSA reviews non-medical eligibility factors for SSI recipients. The frequency of these reviews, which we call “non-medical redeterminations,” depends on a variety of factors.
In addition to non-medical redeterminations, we conduct medical reviews on disabled or blind recipients in order to determine if they continue to be disabled or blind. For administrative efficiency, we generally conduct medical reviews most often on disabled or blind recipients whose medical conditions are most likely to improve. The Act provides for medical reviews for disabled or blind recipients under the following circumstances:
When earnings of recipients exceed the SGA level;28
The Act requires applicants and recipients to report events and changes of circumstances that may affect their SSI eligibility and benefit amounts. The Act requires such reports, for example, when an individual has a change in the amount of the person’s income or resources, changes living arrangements, or leaves the United States. Failure or delay in reporting such a change can result in monetary penalties or ineligibility for SSI benefits.
The basic “failure to report” penalty is $25 for the first such failure or delay, $50 for the second such failure or delay, and $100 for each subsequent failure or delay. However, in cases of fraud or false representation of material facts, SSA’s Inspector General can assess civil monetary penalties in amounts as large as $5,000. In such cases of fraud or false representation, SSA also has the authority to suspend eligibility to SSI cash benefits by imposing administrative sanctions for specific periods of 6 months for the first occurrence, 12 months for the second occurrence, and 24 months for each subsequent occurrence.
Additionally, SSA may use an accelerated rate of overpayment recovery to encourage accurate reporting. SSA generally recovers overpayments to SSI recipients by withholding an amount equal to 10 percent of the individual’s countable monthly income from the recipient’s monthly payment. For many recipients whose only income is SSI, this withheld amount is 10 percent of their monthly SSI payment. However, if SSA determines that the recipient misrepresented or concealed material information, 100 percent of the monthly SSI benefit may be subject to recovery.
5. Representative Payees
When SSI recipients are incapable of managing or directing others to manage their benefits, or are declared legally incompetent, we appoint representative payees for such recipients who receive the individual’s SSI benefits on their behalf. In many cases the representative payee is a spouse, a parent, or other close relative or individual who will act in the recipient’s best interest. In some limited cases, SSA approves an organization to serve as a payee. SSA authorizes certain types of organizations to collect a fee from the individual’s payment for acting as payee. The fee cannot exceed the lesser of 10 percent of the payment amount or a specified amount ($52 a month in 2023).29
Representative payees may use an SSI recipient’s benefit only for the use and benefit of the recipient and must account for all benefits received. The Act requires representative payees to report any changes that may affect SSI recipients’ eligibility and payment amount. SSA may hold representative payees liable for certain overpayments that occur. In cases in which a child is due a retroactive payment that exceeds six times the FBR, including any optional State supplementation payments, the Act requires the representative payee to establish a dedicated account at a financial institution to maintain the retroactive payment. Representative payees must make expenditures from the account primarily for certain expenses related to the child’s impairment.
6. Appeal Rights
Individuals who disagree with an SSA determination (e.g., eligibility for or the amount of SSI benefits) can appeal by filing an appeal request online30 or by writing to their local field office. There are four levels of appeal: reconsideration, hearing, Appeals Council review, and Federal court review. If individuals do not agree with the decision they receive at one level, they may appeal to the next. A reconsideration is a complete review by SSA personnel (or DDS personnel if applicants are appealing a disability determination) who have had no involvement in the initial determination.31 A hearing gives applicants the opportunity to appear before an administrative law judge (ALJ) who had no part in the initial determination or the reconsideration. If an individual disagrees with the hearing-level decision, the individual may file a request for review with the Appeals Council, or the Appeals Council may exercise its own motion authority to review the case in a sample of cases without a request for review having been filed. The Appeals Council may dismiss a request for review, deny a request for review if there is substantial evidence supporting the hearing decision, decide the case itself, or remand the case to the hearing level for further action. When applicants disagree with the Appeal Council’s decision or denial of the request for review, they may file for review in Federal district court.
SSI recipients must receive advance notice of any adverse action SSA plans to take against them and, in some cases, they may continue to receive monthly benefits if they appeal the adverse action. For reconsiderations involving eligibility for or the amount of an SSI payment, recipients qualify for benefit continuation if they file the appeal within 10 days of receipt of the notice of adverse action.32 For appeals of medical cessations or determinations reopened and revised due to medical reasons, recipients qualify for benefit continuation at the reconsideration and hearing levels if they file the appeal and elect benefit continuation within 10 days of receipt of the initial or reconsideration determination.
7. Fees for Attorneys and Non-attorney Representatives
An individual may appoint a representative at any time during an adjudication of a pending issue with SSA. The representative may be either an attorney in good standing and permitted to practice law before a U.S. court or a capable non-attorney generally known to have good character and reputation.
With a limited exception, representatives must use one of SSA’s fee authorization processes to request a fee for their services.33 They can request a fee by either submitting a fee agreement or filing a fee petition. SSA reviews the documents and authorizes the fee the representative may charge or receive. Under the statute, the fee under an approved fee agreement is the lesser of 25 percent of the past-due benefits or a maximum amount (currently $7,200) adjustable by the Commissioner at the Commissioner’s discretion. There is no limit on the amount of the fee based on a fee petition; a reasonable fee is determined after reviewing the specific services provided by the representative. After SSA authorizes the fee, the representative may not charge or receive more than the amount authorized.
The SSI program previously differed from the Social Security program in that we did not withhold amounts from an individual’s SSI benefits to directly pay the representatives their authorized fees. SSI claimants were responsible for paying such fees directly to their representatives. However, beginning February 28, 2005, Congress extended direct payment of both attorney and non-attorney representative fees to the SSI program.34 As in the fee process for the Social Security program, we can withhold up to 25 percent of the individual’s SSI past-due benefits to pay an eligible representative’s fee directly. The law also requires that we charge representatives an assessment of the smaller of 6.3 percent of each authorized fee withheld or the flat-rate cap of $113.35 This assessment applies to authorized fees withheld under the SSI program and the Social Security program; however, in concurrent cases, we only charge the assessment once based on the total fee we directly pay to the representative. We adjust the flat-rate cap based on annual cost-of-living adjustments that we round down to the next lower dollar.
To receive direct payment out of applicants’ past-due benefits, non-attorney representatives must: (1) have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent qualifications from training and work experience; (2) secure and maintain adequate professional liability insurance; (3) pass a criminal background check; (4) pass an examination given by SSA that tests knowledge of the relevant provisions of the Act and our current policies and procedures; and (5) demonstrate ongoing completion of qualified courses of continuing education.
8. Advance Payments
The SSI program has procedures that help to respond to the immediate needs of new claimants. These procedures are in addition to State and local programs designed to help those in need as they await decisions on their SSI status.
a. Emergency Advance Payments
A new claimant who faces a financial emergency and for whom there is a strong likelihood of being found eligible may receive up to 1 month of SSI benefits (i.e., the Federal payment amount plus any applicable State supplement). We recover the amount paid from SSI payments in full from the first retroactive payment or in increments over no more than a 6-month period depending upon the circumstances. However, if we subsequently deny the claim because the claimant is not disabled or blind, we waive repayment. If we deny the claim for other reasons, we treat the amount paid as an overpayment.
b. Presumptive Disability or Blindness
A claimant applying for benefits based on disability or blindness may be paid up to 6 months of benefits when the available medical evidence reflects a high degree of probability that the impairment will meet the definition of disability or blindness and the person is otherwise eligible for disability benefits. We do not treat these payments as overpayments if we later determine that the individual is not disabled or blind. If we disallow the claim for other reasons, the amount paid is an overpayment.
G. State Supplementation
In designing the SSI program, Congress recognized that States,36 in many instances, may want to provide a higher level of income maintenance than the Federal SSI program provides. Thus, the law gives the States the option to supplement Federal payments based on their views of the needs of their citizens. Lawmakers also mandated that States not provide lower benefits under the Federal program than they had provided under the former State program.
The following paragraphs describe the current forms of State supplementation. Table III.H1 summarizes State-specific participation in these programs as well as other programs requiring State and Federal coordination as discussed in section III.H.
1. Optional State Supplementation Programs
For individuals who first became eligible for SSI in 1974 or later, each State could supplement Federal payments to whatever extent it found appropriate with respect to the needs of its citizens and resources of the State. Currently, 44 States and the District of Columbia have optional State supplementation programs.
Some States provide supplementary payments to all individuals eligible for SSI payments, while others limit such payments to certain SSI recipients (e.g., the blind or residents of domiciliary-care facilities), or extend them to persons ineligible for SSI because of excess income. However, Congress enacted passalong provisions that significantly restricted States’ flexibility in setting supplementary payments. See information on the passalong provisions in section III.G.4.
2. Mandatory State Supplementation Programs
In addition to optional State supplementation programs, in limited cases, States must pay mandatory supplementation payments. Congress requires States to maintain the December 1973 income levels of individuals who were transferred in 1974 from the former State adult assistance programs to the SSI program, with two exceptions: Texas, which has a constitutional bar against mandatory State supplementation, and West Virginia, because the SSI FBR in 1973 exceeded the applicable income standards under that State’s adult assistance programs. Over the years, many individuals who converted to SSI from the State benefit rolls have died and others have had their incomes increase above the December 1973 level. As a result, few individuals continue to receive mandatory State supplementation payments.
3. Administration of State Supplementation Payments
A State may administer its supplementary program or enter into an agreement under which SSA will make eligibility determinations and payments on behalf of the State. Under State administration, the State pays its own program benefits and absorbs the full administrative costs. Under Federal administration, States are required to pay SSA a fee for each supplementary payment issued. In fiscal year 2023, the fee is $14.35 per payment issued.37 Fees increase in succeeding fiscal years based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.
States that administer their own supplementary payment programs to SSI recipients establish their own eligibility criteria for the supplementary payments. States with federally administered programs may supplement the Federal benefit among a limited number of geographical and living arrangement variations for SSI recipients.38
4. Passalong Provisions
When the SSI program began in 1974, Congress did not require States to maintain State supplementation payments. However, in 1976, in reaction to States reducing their supplementary payment amounts when SSI payments increased, Congress mandated that States pass along SSI benefit increases resulting from cost-of-living adjustments.
To meet the passalong requirement, a State may either maintain each State payment level from year to year — the “payment levels” method — or it may spend the same amount of money, in the aggregate, that it spent for supplementary benefits in  the 12-month period  preceding the increase in the SSI benefit rate — the “total expenditures” method. Currently, 38 States use the payment levels method and 9 States plus the District of Columbia use the total expenditures method. There are three States that do not pay State supplementary payments. West Virginia has no optional supplementary plan and the legislation did not require it to establish a mandatory plan because Federal SSI income standards exceeded all payments made under the State’s adult assistance programs in 1973. Arizona and North Dakota have no optional supplementary plan and no mandatory minimum State supplementation recipients remaining.
H. Coordination with Other Programs
SSI benefits are not the only form of assistance available to aged, blind, or disabled individuals with limited means. Medicaid, nutrition benefits, and temporary State assistance are also important supports that help prevent further impoverishment and improve health outcomes.
The SSI statute includes provisions that are intended to prevent duplication between SSI benefits and other benefits that the Social Security program or States may provide. For example, the “windfall offset” prevents windfall payments to individuals entitled to receive Social Security and SSI payments for the same period.
SSA also plays a limited but important role in helping States administer the Medicaid Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).39
1. Windfall Offset
If a person receives SSI payments and we later determine that person is entitled to retroactive Social Security benefits, we reduce such retroactive Social Security benefits by the amount of SSI payments the person would not have been eligible for had the Social Security benefits been paid in the month they were due. Congress enacted this “windfall offset” requirement to prevent windfall payments to individuals entitled to receive Social Security and SSI payments for the same period.
2. Interim Assistance Reimbursement
SSA may enter into agreements under which States or local governments are reimbursed for basic needs assistance provided during the period that either an eligible individual’s SSI application for benefits was pending or we suspended and subsequently reinstated the individual’s SSI benefits.
Under these interim assistance reimbursement (IAR) agreements, if the individual has given SSA written authorization, SSA first reimburses the State, then pays the appointed representative’s fee, and pays the remainder in installments to the recipient or the representative payee. Thirty-six States and the District of Columbia have IAR agreements with SSA.
3. Medicaid Determinations
Most SSI recipients are categorically eligible for Medicaid. A State may either use SSI eligibility criteria for determining Medicaid eligibility or use its own criteria as long as the criteria are no more restrictive than the State’s January 1972 medical assistance standards. Forty-one States, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands use SSI criteria, and nine States use eligibility criteria more restrictive than those of the SSI program.
States also may enter into agreements with SSA for SSA to make Medicaid eligibility determinations on their behalf for as long as the eligibility requirements of the State’s Medicaid plans match those for the SSI program. Under these agreements, SSA determines only when an individual is eligible for Medicaid; SSA does not determine Medicaid ineligibility. SSA has Medicaid determination agreements with 34 States and the District of Columbia.
The Act provides continued Medicaid eligibility for certain Social Security beneficiaries who lose SSI eligibility due to: (1) entitlement to Social Security benefits; or (2) a change in Social Security benefits resulting from:
4. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Applications
SSI recipients in all States may be eligible for SNAP benefits. Under agreements entered into by the Department of Agriculture and SSA, Social Security offices provide information about SNAP to all Social Security and SSI applicants, beneficiaries, and recipients and make SNAP applications and informational materials available to them.
The law also provides for Social Security offices to offer to take SNAP applications from SSI applicants and recipients who live in pure SSI households who are not already receiving nutrition benefits, as well as offer to assist SSI applicants and recipients who live in a pure SSI household needing to recertify their SNAP benefits. Social Security offices forward the SNAP applications to the local SNAP offices within 1 federal workday after receiving a signed SNAP application. The SNAP office determines eligibility for nutrition benefits.
Table III.H1.—SSI State Supplementationa and Coordination with Other Programs
Alabama b
Arkansas d
California e
* f

See body of text for description of the various forms of State supplementation.

State has no recipients receiving mandatory minimum State supplementation.

State no longer pays State or local payment that meets the IAR criteria. State still has a valid IAR agreement with SSA.

Mandatory minimum State supplementation program is federally administered. No optional program.

Mandatory minimum State supplementation program is federally administered.

State provides assistance only in initial application cases. No assistance provided during periods that SSI benefits are suspended or terminated.

State does not have a mandatory minimum State supplementation program.

Committee on Ways and Means House Report No. 92-231 (to accompany H.R.1 “The Social Security Amendments of 1971”) on May 26, 1971.

For example, as explained in section III.H, SSI recipients in most States are also automatically eligible for Medicaid, which generally provides for their medical needs.

See table IV.A2 for historical and projected future Federal benefit rates.

“SGA” describes a level of work activity that is both substantial ( i.e., involves the performance of significant physical or mental activities) and gainful (i.e., activities in work for pay or profit, or in work generally performed for pay or profit). SGA rules do not apply to the SSI blind. Generally, earnings from work activity of over $1,470 a month are evidence of ability to engage in SGA. If an SSI applicant is earning over $1,470 a month, the applicant generally would not be considered disabled. However, if an SSI recipient is earning over $1,470 a month, the recipient could continue to be eligible for SSI. (See “Incentives for Work and Opportunities for Rehabilitation” section III.E.) The SGA level of $1,470 was increased from $1,350 effective January 1, 2023 (87 FR 64296). According to regulation, SSA bases yearly increases in the SGA level on increases in the national average wage index. See table V.E1 for the history of SGA level amounts.

A complete list of noncitizens who are considered qualified aliens can be found in the Glossary under “Qualified Alien.”

Generally, the law limits SSI eligibility for humanitarian immigrants to 7 years. As of December 2022 there were approximately 24,000 SSI recipients receiving time‑limited SSI benefit payments, which was roughly 0.3 percent of all recipients who received federally administered SSI payments in that month.

“Human trafficking” is generally defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

See https://www.uscis.gov/save/whats-new/afghan-special-immigrant-conditional-permanent-resident-status-and-non-si-parolees for more information.

See table IV.A2 for historical and projected future Federal benefit rates. We adjust Federal benefit rates in January to reflect changes in the cost of living.

We discuss State supplementation payments in section III.G.

Any portion of this $20 amount not used to exclude unearned income may be used to exclude earned income.

The Act does not define “resources”; however, it specifies items that are not considered resources under the law.

We calculate the number of months of penalty by dividing the uncompensated value of disposed-of resources by the Federal benefit rate plus the maximum federally administered State supplementation payment, if any, applicable to the individual’s living arrangement.

For a more detailed list of the SSI resource exclusions, please refer to section V.B.

See section III.E.6 of this report for a description of the special section 1619 provisions for disabled individuals who work.

Deeming also applies to an individual who lives with an essential person (a concept carried over from the former State assistance plans). However, as of February 2023 there were only 5 of these cases remaining.

The living allowance for ineligible children living in a household who themselves are receiving some form of countable income (such as wages or Social Security benefits) is reduced by the countable amount of that income.

The living allowance for ineligible children living in a household who themselves are receiving some form of countable income (such as wages or Social Security benefits) is reduced by the countable amount of that income.

The sponsor-to-alien deeming rules do not apply to noncitizens who are eligible for SSI benefits under Section 401 of the Additional Ukraine Appropriations Act, 2022, which was enacted on May 21, 2022 as Title IV of the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (Public Law 117-128).

Legally enforceable affidavits of support are required by Public Law 104-208.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, previously known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, began using these new, legally enforceable affidavits on December 19, 1997. However, if a potential immigrant had a visa issued before that date, the sponsor would sign an old version of the affidavit, even if the affidavit was signed after December 19, 1997.

For a temporary period—January 1994 through September 1996—the deeming period was 5 years.

Effective January 1, 2023 (87 FR 64296). The student earned income exclusion generally increases yearly based on changes in the cost of living. See table V.E1 for a history of maximum monthly and calendar year exclusion amounts.

State VR agencies generally have the option on a case-by-case basis of electing to be paid under an EN payment system or under the traditional cost reimbursement payment system. Effective July 21, 2008, a State VR agency under the traditional cost reimbursement option and an EN under the EN payment system may be compensated for providing successive services to a beneficiary.

Under MIRS, an individual’s disability continues unless (1) the disabling condition has improved since the last favorable disability determination or comparison point decision and (2) an individual can engage in SGA. There are limited exceptions to the application of MIRS, including cases involving fraud, errors on the face of the record of the allowance, or failure to cooperate with the review.

The applicant can appeal unfavorable determinations related to either the non-medical or medical eligibility factors. The administrative review process consists of several steps, which must be requested within certain time periods.

This method of calculating the benefit is called retrospective monthly accounting.

A medical review cannot be initiated while the SSI recipient is “using a ticket” under the Ticket to Work program.

For disabled recipients who also have a drug addiction or alcoholism condition, the maximum permitted fee in 2023 is $97 a month (87 FR 64296). We periodically increase the maximum permitted amounts of the representative payee fees based on changes in the cost of living.


SSA introduced a modification of this process in 10 States for disability applications filed October 1, 1999 and later. Under this revised process, claimants appeal an initial disability denial by requesting an Administrative Law Judge hearing, thereby eliminating the reconsideration step. SSA began reinstating the reconsideration level of appeal in these States via a staged roll-out on January 1, 2019, and completed this process by June 26, 2020.

Due to workload-related challenges and the challenges that the COVID-19 national public health emergency has presented, particularly for underserved communities, we are currently providing benefit continuation for appeals filed after 10 days but within 60 days of receipt of the notice of adverse action. Please see EM-21064 REV at secure.ssa.gov/apps10/reference.nsf/links/10292021100254AM.

We do not need to authorize a fee when the representative informs us in a prescribed manner that a third-party entity will pay the representative’s fee and the claimant and affected parties are not liable for it in any way. We also do not need to authorize a fee that the court authorized based on actions as a legal guardian or court-appointed representative.

Public Law 108-203, enacted March 2, 2004, granted temporary extension of the attorney fee payment system to SSI claims for a period of 5 years. Public Law 111-142, enacted February 27, 2010, made this extension permanent.

Effective January 1, 2023 (87 FR 64296). We generally adjust the flat-rate cap periodically based on changes in the cost-of-living.

References to “State” include, in addition to the 50 States, the District of Columbia. The applicable State supplementation provisions would also apply to the Northern Mariana Islands if it began making State supplementation payments.

Increased from $13.16 effective October 1, 2022. Under current regulations, this amount is subject to yearly increases to reflect changes in the cost of living. The regulations also allow us to set a different fee “appropriate for the State,” based on the complexity of its program.

Including recipients whose countable income precludes eligibility for a Federal SSI payment but is low enough to allow eligibility for a State supplement payment.

In 2008, the Food Stamp program changed its name to SNAP.

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