The Basics: What is Supplemental Security Income?

Many of our clients are looking to make sure that their estate planning keeps the needs of their loved ones with disabilities in mind and make plans for them that won’t jeopardize access to current or future government benefits that may be tied to income limitations. One such government benefit is Supplemental Security Income.

Here are the basics of what everyone needs to know about Supplemental Security Income when doing their estate planning for individuals with disabilities:

SSI is the basic federal safety net program for the elderly, blind and disabled, providing them with a minimum guaranteed income. In 2020, the maximum federal SSI benefit is $783 a month for an individual and $1,175 a month for a couple (normally, the amounts go up every January 1). These amounts are supplemented in most states (see below). Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the program, eligibility for SSI benefits is based on financial need, not on how long you have worked or how much you have paid into the Social Security system. However, the financial eligibility rules are quite stringent. If you are seeking SSI benefits because you are disabled, you must demonstrate to the SSA’s satisfaction that you are disabled. This evaluation focuses on whether an individual is capable of being gainfully employed. Although the criteria are far too detailed to be described here, generally speaking a disabled recipient must earn less than $1,000 a month from work.  For more details, see the SSA’s “Information You Need to Apply For Disability Benefits.” Here is some helpful Georgia-specific information: Over 8 million people were receiving SSI payments as of January 2020. Three-quarters of these recipients were below age 65, and one-quarter were aged 65 or older. Many older persons who are not eligible for Social Security retirement benefits because they have not accumulated enough work credits may nevertheless be eligible for SSI, and even many of those receiving Social Security retirement benefits may be able to supplement their benefits with SSI payments.  Most states supplement the federal SSI payment with payments of their own. That is the case here in Georgia, but the supplemental payment is limited only to those Georgia residents who are living in Medicaid facilities. For those who are eligible, the supplement for an individual in Georgia is $20 per month and $100 per month for married couples. The states that do not pay a supplement are Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia.  In some states that do pay a supplement, you may qualify for the state payment even if you don't meet the federal SSI eligibility criteria. But even in those states that supplement the federal payment, the total SSI benefit usually falls below the poverty level. (For more information on state supplements, visit the SSA Web site.)  The idea of the SSI program is to provide a floor income level. If you are receiving income from another source, your SSI benefit will be cut dollar for dollar. In addition, the SSA deems food and shelter you receive from another source to be "in kind" income. As a result, actual payment amounts vary depending on your income, living arrangements, and other factors. While the SSI program's benefits are meager, in most states SSI recipients are also automatically eligible to receive Medicaid, which can pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, nursing home care, and other health costs. This is the case in Georgia, where SSI recipients are automatically eligible for Medicaid. SSI recipients may also be eligible for food stamps in every state except California and in some cases for special programs for the developmentally delayed. In Georgia, if a SSI recipient is single and living alone, there is a highly likelihood that they will also qualify for food stamps.

If you have any further questions about the planning needs involving disability-related concerns, please give us a call. We are happy to help with anyone’s estate planning needs, but we are specifically focused on helping disabled individuals and their families with their unique planning needs.

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