Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors: Thirteenth Report to Congress. Supplemental Security Income


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 of $674 for an individual and $1,011 for a married couple (if both are eligible) in fiscal year 2011. SSI eligibility is restricted to qualified persons who have countable resources/assets of not more than $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the SSI program. Since its inception, SSI has been viewed as the “program of last resort.” Therefore, SSA helps recipients obtain any other public assistance that they are eligible to receive before providing SSI benefits. After evaluating all other income, SSI pays what is necessary to bring an individual to the statutorily prescribed income “floor.”

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. Since states have the authority to set TANF eligibility standards and benefit levels under PRWORA, there is no federal prohibition against individuals receiving both TANF benefits and SSI.

With the exception of California, which converted the value of SNAP benefits to cash payments that are included in the state supplementary payment, SSI recipients may be eligible to receive SNAP. If all household members receive SSI, the household is categorically eligible for SNAP and does not need to meet SNAP’s financial eligibility standards. 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 SNAP to be eligible for SNAP benefits.

SSI Program Data

The following tables and figures provide SSI program data:

  • Tables SSI 1 through SSI 5 and Figure SSI 1 present national caseload and expenditure trend data on the SSI program;
  • Table SSI 6 presents demographic characteristics of the SSI caseload;
  • Tables SSI 7 through SSI 9 present state-by-state trend data on the SSI program through fiscal year 20011.

SSI Caseload Trends (Tables SSI 1 and SSI 2 and Figure SSI 1). From 1990 to 1995, the number of SSI beneficiaries increased from 4.8 million to 6.5 million, an average growth rate of over 7 percent per year. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of beneficiaries fluctuated between 6.5 and 6.6 million persons. Between 2000 and 2011, the caseload increased from 6.6 to 8.1 million beneficiaries, an average annual growth rate of 1.9 percent. Table SSI 1 presents information on the total number of persons receiving SSI payments in December of each year from 1974 through 2011, and also presents recipients by eligibility category (aged, blind, and disabled) and by type of recipient (child, adults ages 18-64, and adults ages 65 or older). See also Tables IND 3c and IND 4c in Chapter II for further data on trends in recipiency and participation.

The composition of the SSI caseload has been shifting over time, as shown in Table SSI 1. The number of beneficiaries eligible because of age has been declining steadily, from a high of 2.3 million persons in December 1975 to a low of 1.2 million persons in December 2004 and has since remained essentially unchanged. At the same time, there has been strong growth in blind and disabled beneficiaries, from 1.7 million in December 1974 to 6.9 million in December 2011. Moreover, the number of disabled children has increased dramatically, particularly during the 1990s, when the number of disabled children receiving SSI increased from 309,000 in December 1990 to 955,000 in December 1996. The number of disabled children fell over the next three years, but has been increasing since 2000, reaching a little under 1.3 million children in 2011.

Several factors have contributed to the growth of the Supplemental Security Income program. Expansions in disability eligibility (particularly for mentally impaired adults and for children), increased outreach, overall growth in immigration, and transfers from state programs were among the key factors identified in a 1995 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO concluded that three groups – adults with mental impairments, children, and non-citizens – accounted for nearly 90 percent of the SSI program’s growth in the early 1990s. The growth in disabled children beneficiaries is generally believed to be due to outreach activities, the Supreme Court decision in the Zebley case, expansion of the medical impairment category, and reduction in reviews of continuing eligibility.24

SSI Expenditures (Tables SSI 3 through SSI 5). The total amount of federally administered SSI benefits has increased over the past six years from $42.9 billion (inflation adjusted) in 2005 to over $49.5 billion in 2011, as shown in Table SSI 3. Average monthly federally administered benefits per person were $502 in 2011, down (0.8 percent) from 2005 inflation adjusted benefit level of $506. For more details see Table SSI 4.

SSI Recipient Characteristics (Table SSI 6). Over the last 20 years, the percentage of aged SSI recipients has dramatically decreased, while the percentage of disabled recipients has increased substantially. As shown in Table SSI 6, the proportion of SSI aged recipients has decreased from 44 percent in 1980 to under 15 percent in 2011. During the same period, the percentage of disabled recipients increased from 55 percent in 1980 to 85 percent in 2011.

More information about the SSI program, including research and statistics, and Annual Statistical Supplements, can be found at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/policy/.

24 The GAO study estimated that 87,000 children were added to the SSI caseload after the IFA for children was initiated.

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