Supplemental Security Income

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When Disability Insurance Is Not Enough

While Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments come from a trust fund comprised of workers’ individual contributions over their lifetimes, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is paid directly from the U.S. Treasury. The Social Security Administration (SSA) simply manages the program.

Qualifying for SSI

To be eligible for SSI, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen or national living in the U.S. or the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Age 65 or older
  • Either blind or disabled

The SSA also gives special consideration for the following circumstances:

  • Disabled or blind children of parents with limited income and resources
  • Some U.S. residents who are not citizens
  • Applicants who live in a publicly operated community home with fewer than 17 residents
  • Individuals living in a public institution to facilitate attendance at an approved educational or job-training program
  • Residents of a public shelter for the homeless
  • Incarcerated individuals who do not have any:
    • Felonies or arrest warrants for escape from custody
    • Flights to avoid prosecution or confinement
    • Flight escapes
  • Residents of institutions whose Medicaid benefits cover more than half of their care may receive a reduced SSI benefit

Divorced Applicants

Additionally, as with all Social Security benefits, SSI is available to divorced individuals when they are:

  • Currently eligible for Social Security benefits
  • Divorced after a marriage lasting at least 10 years
  • Currently unmarried
  • Divorced from someone who is currently age 62 or older
  • Entitled to benefits that are less than the benefits their ex-spouse would be entitled to

If all of these criteria are met, a divorced applicant can begin receiving benefits as soon as 2 years following his or her divorce. The SSA will first apply all of the benefits the applicant has accrued on his or her own work record. Then they will apply benefits based on the ex-spouse’s record until the “marital portion”—50% of the ex-spouse’s full retirement benefits—is reached.

Disabilities

As with SSDI benefits, to receive SSI payments, you must prove your disability prevents you from working. The SSA provides a list of specific conditions and diseases, both physical and mental, that qualify. The SSA will accept conditions that aren’t on their list when the impact is severe enough.

While benefits are not available for rehabilitation services for substance abuse, individuals diagnosed with addiction who can prove they are in recovery may qualify for assistance with problems arising from their addiction, such as cirrhosis of the liver or anxiety disorders. Even if you believe the diagnosis was incorrect, enrolling in a recovery program will increase your chances of qualifying for SSI benefits.

Income

The SSA calculates both income and resources to determine if an individual is eligible for benefits. The first $20 of most types of income, and the first $65 of work income, are considered exempt. The SSA uses the remaining 50% of an individual’s income to determine eligibility. Income from spouses, as well as income from parents of disabled minors, are included in the SSA’s calculations.

Exemptions from this income include:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits
  • Energy assistance
  • Donated shelter
  • A portion of scholarships and work wages of student applicants
  • Any wages used to pay for items necessary to maintain a job, such as a wheelchair, or bus fare for blind applicants

Resources

Individuals with resources under $2000 and married couples with resources under $3000 may be able to qualify for SSI. The SSA defines resources as most of your assets, including:

  • Real estate that is not your home
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Cash savings
  • Retirement accounts

Assets that are not considered resources include::

  • The home (and land) in which you live
  • Life insurance policies worth less than $1500
  • Your car, in most cases
  • Burial plots for you and your immediate family
  • The first $1500 in burial funds, and an additional $1500 in burial funds for your spouse

SSI in Maryland

While the SSA manages the SSI program at the federal level, each state is responsible for running their own Disability Determination Services (DDS). This agency administers both SSDI and SSI benefits. The Maryland DDS agency is run by its Department of Rehabilitative Services (DORS).

Maryland, as with most states, offers a supplement to the federal SSI base payments. This additional monthly benefit ranges between $52 and $666. Combined with the federal payments, your SSI total benefits can be anywhere from $770 to $1380 per month.

Appealing a Denial

As with SSDI, the national approval rate for SSI applications is around 36%. If your claim has been denied, I can help you through the next steps to process an appeal.

Reconsideration

The first phase of an appeal is called a Request for Reconsideration. These appeals are really re-submissions to the same DDS office that issued the first denial, this time with a different person in the office conducting the review. This should be thought of as a second opinion. Only around 13% of these appeals are successful.

Administrative Law Hearing

The next step is a hearing before an administrative law judge at a federal hearing office called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). A whopping 62% of these appeals are approved, so it is definitely worth fighting an initial denial.

Appeals Council

If administrative law judge did deny your appeal, you can take your case to the Appeals Council where approval rates drop to 13%.

Federal Court

Whatever you do, don’t give up. If you are still denied after your Appeals Council hearing, you can take your case to a federal court where your chances for approval jump to 40%.

Navigating the System

The application and appeals process for SSI cases are notoriously long and can require quite a bit of paperwork. A disability that prevents you from working requires your full attention. But you don’t have to burden yourself further with legal processes, court filings, and easy-to-miss rules and requirements. I can provide the full legal support you need to secure the benefits you’re entitled to—so you can concentrate on your health and wellness.

As with SSDI, I charge no more than 25% of whatever is determined to be your backpay—the time between the Established Onset Date (EOD) of your disability and your actual payments, with a total limit of $6,000. You pay nothing if your claim is denied.

Get Started with a Free Consultation

SSI isn’t a perk or a handout. It is the legal right of Americans who are suffering from debilitating conditions and limited resources. Securing the benefits you are entitled to gives you a chance to live the fullest and most independent life possible with dignity. Regardless of your physical condition, no less than the Declaration of Independence establishes your right to "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Call 301-589-4597 or email me at ds@dsteinlaw.com today to win the benefits and support you deserve.