The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program is a means-tested, federally administered income assistance program authorized by title XVI of the Social Security Act. Established in 1972 (Public Law 92-603) and begun in 1974, SSI provides monthly cash payments in accordance with uniform, nationwide eligibility requirements to needy aged, blind and disabled persons. To qualify for SSI payments, a person must satisfy the program criteria for age, blindness or disability. Children may qualify for SSI if they are under age 18 and meet the applicable SSI disability or blindness, income and resource requirements. Individuals and married couples are eligible for SSI if their countable incomes fall below the Federal maximum monthly SSI benefit levels, which were $552 for an individual and $829 for a married couple in fiscal year 2003. SSI eligibility is restricted to qualified persons who have countable resources/assets of not more than $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple. Since its inception, SSI has been viewed as the “program of last resort.” The Social Security Administration, which administers the SSI program, helps recipients get any other public assistance for which they are eligible. After evaluating all other income, SSI pays what is necessary to bring an individual to the statutorily prescribed income “floor.” As of December 2001, 36 percent of all SSI recipients also received Social Security retirement or survivor benefits, which are the single greatest source of income for SSI recipients.
Prior to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), no individual could receive both SSI payments and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits. If eligible for both, the individual had to choose which benefit to receive. Generally, the AFDC agency encouraged individuals to file for SSI and, once the SSI payments had started, the individual was removed from the AFDC filing unit. In contrast, the PRWORA does not prohibit an individual from receiving both TANF benefits and SSI, since states have the authority to set TANF eligibility standards and benefit levels.
With the exception of California, which converted food stamp benefits to cash payments that are included in the State supplementary payment, SSI recipients may be eligible to receive food stamps. If all household members receive SSI, they do not need to meet the Food Stamp Program financial eligibility standards but rather are categorically eligible. If SSI beneficiaries live in households in which other household members do not receive SSI benefits, the household must meet the net income eligibility standard of the Food Stamp Program to be eligible for food stamp benefits.
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