Supplemental Security Income (SSI) & Paying for Eldercare

Page Reviewed / Updated - Mar. 2016

Supplemental Security Income Definition

 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program which provides finance assistance to needy persons as a supplement to Social Security. SSI is funded by the Government’s General Fund not by Social Security.


Supplemental Security Income is provided to financially needy seniors that have extremely limited income and assets. The program evaluates one's income and fills in the gap to bring their income up to pre-set amount determined and revised annually by the federal government. Therefore, the benefit amounts individuals receive is dependent on their incomes.

For most seniors, the average additional benefit SSI provides is approximately $400 / month. The maximum benefit for 2016 is $733. While this alone cannot cover the cost of home care or assisted living, there is no time limit on receiving assistance. One can continue to receive help for as long as they are financially eligible. In addition, most states offer a supplement to the federal SSI payments called State Supplementary Payments (SSP) or Optional State Supplements (OSS). The amounts and eligibility requirements SSP / OSS differ in each state.  Read more about SSP / OSS.

Unlike Social Security benefits, SSI benefits are not based on an individual or their family member's prior work. As seniors receive payments directly from the government, they or their loved ones are free to apply those dollars towards any need they have including home care, adult day care, assisted living or home modifications to enable aging in place.


Eligibility Requirements for Supplemental Security Income


The minimum age to collect SSI is 65 unless the individual is officially designated as blind or disabled by the Social Security Administration.  Under these circumstances, persons age 18 and over can be eligible.

Disabilities & Health

There are no disability or health requirements to qualify for Supplemental Security Income unless the applicant under aged 65.   Being blind or disabled supersedes the age requirement of 65 years.

Income & Assets

Supplemental Security Income eligibility has both income and asset limits. To be eligible, one's countable monthly income cannot exceed the benefit amount. In 2016, that amount is $733 for an individual and $1,100 for a married couple.

The countable asset or resource limit has not changed for 2016. Individual's assets cannot exceed $2,000 and married couples' assets cannot exceed $3,000. Resources include the following:

  • Cash, stocks and saving bonds
  • Other personal property
  • Land on which the owner doesn’t reside
  • Life insurance
  • Vehicles
  • Anything else that can be exchanged for cash

Notable exceptions to countable resources are:

  • Home and land, if currently lived in
  • One vehicle, if used regularly
  • Personal effects with sentimental value such as wedding rings
  • Burial spaces and funds for the immediate family

Personal Factors Not Affecting Eligibility

One marital status does not affect eligibility directly, however it does so indirectly by increasing the couple's monthly income limit. 

Veteran status does not affect eligibility.  However, those collecting veterans' pensions may find themselves ineligible as their income may exceed the limit for SSI.

There are no geographic requirements however it should be noted that some states offer additional SSI assistance beyond what is available at a federal level.


Benefits of Supplemental Security Income

Payout Process and Restrictions

Supplemental Security Income is a cash payment made monthly directly to the individual.  There are no restrictions on how the Supplemental Security Income payments can be spent.  In the context of eldercare, the benefits can be used to pay for home or adult day care, assisted living or nursing home care and / or home modifications and medical equipment to enable aging in place.

Amounts & Limits

For 2016, the maximum benefit amount is $733 for an individual and $1,100 for a married couple in which both spouses qualify.  This is equal to an annual benefit of approximately $8,796 for an individual or $13,200 for a couple.


Application Process

What to Expect

The application process is extensive as the SSA must verify the applicant's income and their countable assets.  Potential beneficiaries should expect the complete process from beginning an application to receiving the first benefit check to take anywhere from 3 - 6 months.   Annual re-verification of finances is required.

There are no costs associated with an application.  However, some individuals elect to retain private financial planners to help them with the process.  These individuals will charge for their assistance. 

How to Apply

The easiest and best way to begin the application process is by taking the Social Security Administration's benefits screening test.  This questionnaire takes approximately 5 minutes to complete and screens for a variety of benefits, not just for SSI.  One can begin the process here.

Government assistance is also available for the application process (though not with the preparation of finances).   Read more here.