Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a disability program designed for those with a demonstrated financial need and a disability that prevents them from substantial gainful activity. In some cases, those over 65 years old may qualify for SSI even if they are not completely disabled according to the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s definition of total disability.
For those under 65 years of age, you must establish that you are both completely disabled and that you do not have adequate other means of support to qualify for SSI benefits. This means proving that your disability makes it impossible for you to perform any work, including both work which you have done before and any work for which you could otherwise be trained.
To qualify financially for SSI, you cannot own more than $2,000 worth of total countable assets (if you are married, you may jointly own up to $3,000 in assets). Countable assets are basically anything of value which you own except for the home which you live in and one vehicle. Your assets include such things as money in savings and checking accounts, IRAs and other retirement accounts, cash value in life insurance policies, vehicles (other than one vehicle for transportation), and virtually anything else of significant value.
If you are both disabled (according to the SSA definition) and can demonstrate your financial need (insufficient or no income and less than $2,000 in assets), you may qualify for SSI.
If you have worked during the past ten years, you should look into applying for SSDI while you are applying for SSI. Some people qualify for both. The main difference between the programs is that SSDI is an insurance program designed for those who had been working prior to their disability. SSI is also for disabled persons, but is specifically for those who have demonstrated a financial need. If you are disabled, you may qualify for SSI whether you have worked in recent years or not.
Generally speaking, the best time to file for SSI is as soon as you realize you may have a disability which is likely to last over a year. You should also apply if you have a disability which is expected to lead to your death, especially if it is expected to be terminal within the next year.
Children with certain disabilities may also qualify for SSI. If you suspect your child may qualify for SSI, check with the SSA concerning the current list of accepted conditions. The list of accepted conditions does change periodically, but once a child is medically qualified for SSI, he or she will continue to collect SSI (generally paid to a representative payee such as a parent or other guardian) even if his condition is taken off the list of accepted disabilities.
If your initial Social Security Disability claim is denied, you should consider having a disability lawyer represent you. Disability advocates deal with the SSA on a regular basis and represent your best chance of having your disability claim approved during the appeals process. While you certainly may represent yourself, a professional disability advocate can help the process go much smoother and the representation won’t cost you anything unless you are approved for disability benefits.