The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, enacted in 1974, is a needs-based program that provides cash benefits designed to ensure a minimum income to aged, blind, or disabled persons with limited income and assets. The SSI program is a means-tested program that does not have work or contribution requirements, but restricts benefits to those who meet asset and resource limitations. In June 2011, the SSI program had more than 8.05 million participants, who received over $4.3 billion in benefits. In FY2010, the total net cost of the SSI program was $47.3 billion, including $43.8 billion in federal benefit payments. Funding for the SSI program is provided by Congress in the annual Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill.
For adults, disability is defined as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last at least 12 months. In general, the worker must be unable to do any kind of work that exists in the national economy, taking into account age, education, and work experience. A child under age 18 may qualify as disabled if he or she has an impairment that results in “marked and severe” functional limitations. For adults aged 65 or older, it is possible to qualify for SSI benefits without being disabled. Most adult SSI recipients have other income; their countable income is subtracted from the federal benefit rate to determine their SSI eligibility and payment amount.
The maximum federal SSI payment, referred to as the federal benefit rate, is $674 per month for an individual living independently and $1,011 for a couple living independently in 2011. Federal SSI benefits are adjusted annually to reflect changes in the cost of living; however, these benefits were not changed in 2010 or 2011 due to the lack of a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). In June 2011, the average monthly federal SSI payment was $595.10 for children under the age of 18, $515.10 for adults aged 18 to 64, and $404.00 for adults aged 65 or older. All but five states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands supplement the federal SSI benefit with additional payments, which are administered by the federal government or by the states themselves. SSI recipients are also automatically eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and are generally eligible for Medicaid.
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