Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits

The federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter for aged, blind or disabled children or adults with little or no income. Federal benefits can be supplemented with state contributions; benefits vary by state and by recipient (SSA). In 2014, average federal benefits were $633 per month for children, $550 for adults, and $426 for elderly beneficiaries (NBER-Duggan 2015). SSI incentivizes work through earnings disregards of $1 out of every $2 earned; in 2014, $1,527 could be earned in a month before SSI payments were suspended (Ben-Shalom 2015). Personal assets help determine eligibility; individuals cannot have countable resources above $2,000, and couples are limited to $3,000 (SSA-SSI resources). Child recipients are assessed at age 18 to determine eligibility under adult standards. In many states, individuals eligible for SSI are automatically eligible for Medicaid (Ben-Shalom 2015).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased income

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced poverty

  • Improved well-being

Evidence of Effectiveness

Increasing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit levels is a suggested strategy to reduce poverty among elderly and blind individuals, and adults and children with disabilities severe enough to prevent gainful employment (CBPP-SSI 2014). Available analysis indicates SSI brings some recipients and their families above the poverty line (SSA-Stegman Bailey 2015). Benefits raise half of child beneficiaries out of poverty, and bring some of the poorest recipients above 50% of the poverty line (CBPP-Romig 2017). However, at current benefit levels, SSI may not alleviate material hardship (Ghosh 2015) or food insecurity for families with children with disabilities ().

Loss of SSI benefits has been shown to increase the likelihood of hardships such as hunger, homelessness (), and unmet medical needs (). A study of child SSI recipients who underwent redetermination in 1998-2006 as they aged out of the program suggests that recipients who lose benefits at age 18 have higher rates of employment at age 24 than those who continue to receive SSI; on average, employment rates are close to those of peers with disabilities but substantially lower than those without disabilities (). However, health outcomes and ability to live independently have not been assessed (Mathematica-Levere 2017). While some youth secure full-time, full-year employment, overall earnings among former recipients average $4,400 annually and income volatility is substantial (Deshpande 2016).

Higher SSI benefit rates may decrease disability in the elderly (Herd 2008). Additional evidence is needed to confirm optimal program targeting and benefit amounts for children and adults.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of January 2016, over 8 million individuals received Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI provides support for 1.3 million US children (SSA-SSI 2016), about half of them eligible because of disability due to a mental disorder (). State policies regarding enrollment of children with mental disabilities (), and practices regarding cessation and continuation for children older than 18 vary widely ().

Approximately 4 in 9 SSI recipients receive a state supplement to their federal benefits. Six states do not offer SSI supplements: Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia (NBER-Duggan 2015). The federal Social Security Administration implements SSI supplements for eleven states and the District of Columbia; other states implement their own (SSA-SSI 2016).

Citations - Evidence

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Hemmeter 2011* - Hemmeter J. Health-related unmet needs of Supplemental Security Income youth after the age-18 redetermination. Health Services Research. 2011;46(4):1224-42.

Norris 2003a* - Norris J, Scott R, Speiglman R, Green R. Homelessness, hunger and material hardship among those who lost SSI. Contemporary Drug Problems. 2003;30:241-73.

CBPP-Romig 2017 - Romig K. SSI: A lifeline for children with disabilities. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2017.

CBPP-SSI 2014 - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Introduction to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2014.

Deshpande 2016 - Deshpande M. Does welfare inhibit success? The long-term effects of removing low-income youth from the disability rolls. American Economic Review. 2016;106(11):3300-3330.

Ghosh 2015 - Ghosh S, Parish SL. Deprivation among US children with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income. Journal of Disability Policy Studies. 2015;26(3):173-183.

Hemmeter 2017* - Hemmeter J, Mann DR, Wittenburg DC. Supplemental Security Income and the transition to adulthood in the United States: State variations in outcomes following the age-18 redetermination. Social Service Review. 2017;91(1):106-133.

Herd 2008 - Herd P, Schoeni RF, House JS. Upstream solutions: Does the Supplemental Security Income program reduce disability in the elderly? The Milbank Quarterly. 2008;86(1):5-45.

Mathematica-Levere 2017 - Levere M. The labor market consequences of receiving disability benefits during childhood. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2017.

Rose-Jacobs 2016* - Rose-Jacobs R, Fiore JG, Ettinger de Cuba S, et al. Children with special health care needs, Supplemental Security Income, and food insecurity. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 2016;37(2):140-147.

SSA-Stegman Bailey 2015 - Stegman Bailey M, Hemmeter J. Characteristics of noninstitutionalized DI and SSI program participants, 2013 Update. Washington, DC: Social Security Administration (SSA); 2015.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

SSA-SSI 2016 - Social Security Administration (SSA). SSI recipients by state and county 2015. SSA Publication No. 13-11976. Washington, DC, September 2016.

NBER-Duggan 2015 - Duggan M, Kearney M, Rennane S. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); 2015: Working Paper 21209.

Hemmeter 2017* - Hemmeter J, Mann DR, Wittenburg DC. Supplemental Security Income and the transition to adulthood in the United States: State variations in outcomes following the age-18 redetermination. Social Service Review. 2017;91(1):106-133.

Hoagwood 2017* - Hoagwood KE, Zima BT, Buka SL, Houtrow A, Kelleher KJ. State-to-state variation in SSI enrollment for children with mental disabilities: An administrative and ethical challenge. Psychiatric Services. 2017;68(2):195-198.

Kelleher 2016* - Kelleher KJ, Stein REK, Hoagwood KE. Supplemental Security Income for children with mental disabilities. Pediatrics. 2016;137(3):e20153342.

Date Last Updated

Jun 29, 2017