Why Are Living Arrangements Addressed During an SSI Application?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a disability program that is intended to assist individuals with medical conditions that prevent them from working.

As opposed to Social Security Disability, SSI is primarily intended for those who have not worked enough to qualify for the Social Security Disability (SSD) program, or whose coverage for SSD has lapsed. However, having said that, SSI may be available to individuals who also qualify for SSD, provided that their SSD monthly benefit amount is fairly low.

SSD is available only to those who are severely impaired and have paid into the Social Security system through FICA taxes deducted from their paychecks. SSI acts as a "sort of" safety net for those who are impaired but have not been employed a significant amount of time in the past, such as stay-at-home moms, children, and young adults, or adults who, for whatever reasons, have not worked recently.

SSD and SSI disability applications are evaluated exactly the same. From a case processing standpoint, no distinction is made. However, SSI applicants are approved only if they can demonstrate real financial need, as they have paid little or nothing into the Social Security system (or little "recently"), and are, therefore, not considered 'entitled' to federal disability insurance (SSD) benefits.

While SSD is not subject to an asset limit, SSI is awarded to those who are severely mentally or physically impaired with total assets of less than $2,000 (with the exception of one car and a primary residence).

As with SSD, income can be an eligibility consideration. For example, a person who is working and earning at least a substantial and gainful income will not be eligible to receive SSD benefits. However, with SSI "Income" includes not only the income of the individual filing for SSI, but also the income of any other members of the household (some SSI cases are actually denied because older children living at home have a job).

The basic premise of SSI is this: The federal government will help you keep a roof over your head and food on the table if you can't work (and earn a substantial, gainful income as a result of a disabling impairment) and have absolutely nowhere else to turn. People who live alone and have to pay all their own bills are naturally considered needier than those who have other people around to help them meet expenses.

However, Social Security will not deny anyone for SSI on the grounds that they live with someone. The most an SSI benefit can be cut because of an individual's living arrangements is one-third. In fact, about 43 percent of all people who receive SSI reside in shared households, while only 36 percent live on their own.

Just keep in mind that maximum SSI benefits are awarded to those who live alone'anyone, even a roommate, who brings income into the home could cause a reduction of total SSI benefits to which a claimant may be entitled.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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