Supplemental Security Income


The federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly cash benefits to people age 65 or older with very low income and assets, individuals who are blind, or people with disabilities. States may supplement this income. SSI eligibility often allows people to receive other important means-tested benefits. These include Medicaid and food benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program. 

In 2020, about eight million people received SSI benefits each month. Of that total, about 2.3 million were people age 65 or older. Nonetheless, many who are eligible for SSI may not be getting the benefits to which they are entitled, a situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices. The two main reasons for people not receiving benefits appear to be a lack of effective outreach and challenges with the application process. 

SSI benefits do not go far enough to keep recipients out of poverty. The maximum annual federal SSI benefit in 2020 was only $9,396 for an individual and $14,100 for a couple. SSI is funded via general revenue and not through the Social Security trust funds, even though SSA administers it. 

Some SSI rules can create financial hardship for caregivers. For example, SSI benefits may be reduced by one-third if a beneficiary lives in another person’s household and does not pay for all their food and shelter. Such assistance is considered in-kind support and maintenance. 

Another threat to eligibility is the age threshold. Congress has considered legislation that would increase the age to qualify for SSI benefits from age 65 to 67 for those who qualify under the age category. Although some individuals age 65–67 might qualify for SSI on the basis of disability, many would likely be left out. 

American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people face a unique issue regarding their benefits. In 2014, the federal tax code was amended to exclude Indian General Welfare Benefits that meet certain requirements from gross income. Consequently, the Social Security Administration stated that these benefits also should be excluded from income for purposes of SSI. However, the Social Security Act has not been updated to reflect this. As a result, Indian General Welfare Benefits may incorrectly be categorized as income, affecting AI/AN people’s eligibility and benefit amounts.



Benefit levels

The federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit levels should be increased to bring beneficiaries up to the poverty level. States should supplement those benefit payments. 

Policymakers should modify SSI rules to support informal caregiving arrangements. The rule that reduces SSI benefits by one-third for recipients living in someone else’s household and not paying for food or shelter should be eliminated. 


Policymakers should not increase the age of eligibility for SSI. 


Policymakers and the Social Security Administration should adopt policies and procedures to increase the proportion of eligible people, particularly those age 65 or older, who receive SSI benefits. 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) should allow online applications or other alternatives to apply for benefits. 

The SSA should screen for individuals age 65 and older who are receiving Social Security benefits that are less than the maximum SSI benefit and notify them that they may be eligible for SSI. 

Policymakers should amend the Social Security Act to exclude Tribal General Welfare Benefits that meet IRS requirements from the determination of income for SSI.