Author: Umar Moulta-Ali, Analyst in Disability Policy
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 December 2013, the SSI program had more than 8.3 million participants, who received over $4.6 billion in benefits. The costs for benefit payments and administrative expenses for the SSI program were over $53 billion in FY2013. 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.