1. Home
  2.  → 
  3. Firm News
  4.  → “How Do They Expect Me to Live on SSI?” We Get Asked This Question a Lot.

“How Do They Expect Me to Live on SSI?” We Get Asked This Question a Lot.

Can you make it on less than $900 a month? In 2022, the maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $841 per month, and the average per person is $623. Think about it: Less than $900 a month to cover the basic necessities of rent, transportation, food, utilities, medical costs not met by Medicaid, etc.

For most of us, this would not be enough. The national median rent hit $1,827 this year according to an article from CNN, over twice what people getting the maximum SSI benefit are able to pay.

However, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was developed to be a safety net for U.S. citizens who cannot meet their basic financial needs because of their age or disability. In May of 2022, more than 7 million people collected SSI benefits according to data from the Social Security Administration. For nearly three-fifths of recipients, SSI represents their only source of income. It may not be much, but at least it is something.

When did SSI come into being, and why?

Congress created SSI in 1972 to replace the patchwork system of federal grants to states for aid to the aged, blind or disabled.  According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers SSI, those grants were “intended to supplement the incomes of individuals who were ineligible for Social Security or whose benefits could not provide a basic living.”  Since its launch in 1974, SSI has guaranteed a minimum level of income to those who qualify.

Although run by the same agency, SSI is distinct from the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs, commonly known as Social Security. Nevertheless, the two programs often overlap.  Many SSI recipients have worked long enough to collect Social Security but their Social Security benefit is low enough that they also qualify for SSI. Nearly one-third of adult SSI recipients under age 65, and almost three-fifths of recipients over 65, also get Social Security.

The good news is that you may be eligible for more than SSI benefits

If you are on Supplemental Security Income, it is important to consider whether you are eligible for other benefits as well. As mentioned, many people are on SSI and also get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. If you are a veteran, you may qualify for veterans benefits. Are you disabled because you were hurt at work? Perhaps you have a workers’ compensation claim. Are you disabled because of a car accident or some other type of accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence? You may have a personal injury claim.

You should also qualify for Medicaid, food stamps, utility assistance, transportation assistance and more. Most of these programs are administered by your county Job and Family Services agency—except housing, which is through the county Metropolitan Housing Authority or HUD (Federal Section 8 housing). You will also be welcome at local food banks and other charitable organizations that can provide clothing and even a warm bed if you are homeless.

It’s kind of a balancing act: Don’t expect to have money for extras unless you work very hard to save a little each month; but you can’t save too much because having anything over $2,000 in resources will make you ineligible for SSI. There are also strict rules regarding how much earned and unearned income you can make and still remain eligible for SSI.

While it can be a challenge, SSI is the best that many can do in a situation that no one expects to find themselves in. It is a new way of life, but it is a way of life. One recipient states, “Receiving SSI changed my life in that I no longer have to worry about being able to get medical care, and I no longer need to feel guilty for being a burden on my parents.”

Maximum monthly payment data from the Social Security Administration.