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

June 11, 2016 by Robert L. Heller
How Do They Expect Me to Live on SSI? We Get Asked This Question a Lot.

Can you make it on less than $800 a month? In 2016, the maximum SSI benefit is $773 per month. Think about it: $773 a month to cover the basic necessities of rent, food, utilities, medical costs not met by Medicaid, etc.

For most of us, this would not be enough; however, this 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 December 2013, nearly 8.4 million people collected SSI benefits.  For nearly three-fifths of recipients, SSI represents their only source of income.

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, blindor 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 OldAge, 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.

Here is the good news:

If you get SSI, you should also qualify for Medicaid, food stamps, utility assistance, transportation assistance and more because the amount is so very low. 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).

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 anything over $2,000 in resources will make you ineligible for SSI. 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.

For many, SSI is the best they 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.”


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