Supplemental Security Income (SSI) & Paying for Eldercare

Page Reviewed / Updated - May 2017

Supplemental Security Income Definition

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

Overview

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 a pre-set amount determined and revised annually by the federal government. Therefore, the benefit amount that an individual receives is dependent on their income.

For most seniors, the average additional benefit SSI provides is approximately $400 / month. The maximum benefit amount for 2017 is $735 for a single individual and $1,103 for a married couple. 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), which increases one’s total SSI payment. The amounts and eligibility requirements of 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

Citizenship / Residency

One must be a citizen of the United States, a national, or a qualified alien. One must also be a resident of one of the 50 states within the U.S., the Northern Mariana Islands, or the District of Columbia.

Age

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. As of January 2017, that amount is $735 for an individual and $1,103 for a married couple.

The countable asset or resource limit has not changed for 2017. Individual's assets cannot exceed $2,000 and married couples' assets cannot exceed $3,000. Resources include the following:

  • Cash, stocks and saving bonds
  • Personal property, such as gems and collectibles 
  • Land on which the owner doesn’t reside
  • Life insurance valued over $1,500
  • Vehicles 
  • Anything else that can be exchanged for cash

Notable exceptions to countable resources are:

  • Home and land, if currently lived in
  • Home furnishings
  • One vehicle, if used regularly
  • Personal effects with sentimental value, such as wedding rings
  • Burial funds (up to $1,500 / person) and burial spaces for yourself and immediate family

 

Personal Factors Not Affecting Eligibility

One’s 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 2017, the maximum benefit amount is $735 for an individual and $1,103 for a married couple in which both spouses qualify. This is equal to an annual benefit of approximately $8,820 for an individual or $13,236 for a couple.

 

Application Process

What to Expect

The application process is extensive, as the Social Security Administration (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.