Chapter 3: Supplemental Security Income

Overview

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), with benefits first paid in 1974, SSI provides monthly cash payments in accordance with uniform, nationwide eligibility requirements to needy aged, blind, and disabled persons. In June 2016, there were 8.3 million SSI recipients receiving $4.7 billion in monthly benefit payments.

The SSI program replaced the federal-state programs of Old Age Assistance and Aid to the Blind established by the original Social Security Act of 1935, as well as the program of Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled established by the Social Security Act Amendments of 1950. Under these programs, federal matching funds were offered to the states to enable them to give cash relief, “as far as practicable” in each state, to eligible persons whom the states deemed needy. The states set benefit levels and administered these programs. These federal-state adult assistance programs continue to operate in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Under the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, enacted as Public Law 94-241 on March 24, 1976, the Northern Mariana Islands is the only jurisdiction outside the 50 states and the District of Columbia in which residents are eligible for the SSI program.

The Congress intended the SSI program to be more than just a federal version of the former state adult assistance programs, which it replaced. In describing the program, the report of the Committee on Finance stated:

The Committee bill would make a major departure from the traditional concept of public assistance as it now applies to the aged, the blind, and the disabled. Building on the present Social Security program, it would create a new federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), designed to provide a positive assurance that the nation's aged, blind, and disabled people would no longer have to subsist on below poverty level incomes. (Senate Report No. 92-1230, p. 384; U.S. Senate, Committee on Finance, Sept. 26, 1972).

The SSI program was envisioned as a basic national income maintenance system for the aged, blind, and disabled, which would differ from the state programs it replaced in a number of ways.  It would be administered by SSA in a manner as comparable as possible to the way in which benefits were administered under the Social Security Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs. While it was understood that modifications would be necessary to make SSA's systems work for the new program, SSI was seen as an add-on rather than a new system.  

Under the former adult assistance programs, the amount of assistance could vary from person to person according to an evaluation of the individual's needs. The SSI program, by contrast, represented a “flat grant” approach in which there would be a uniform federal income support level.

It should be noted that even though SSA administers the SSI program, SSI is not the same as Social Security. The SSI program is funded by general revenues of the U.S. Treasury – which are comprised of personal income taxes, corporate taxes, and other taxes. Social Security benefits are funded primarily by the Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons. The programs also differ in other ways such as the conditions of eligibility and the method of determining payments. In addition, states have the option of supplementing the basic federal SSI payment. In most cases, state supplementary payments are administered by the state instead of SSA.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

The House Ways and Means Committee is making available selected reports by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for inclusion in its 2016 Green Book website. CRS works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to Committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. For prior reports, please see the 2012 Green Book and 2014 Green Book.

Program Basics

IF10482: Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

RL32279:  Primer on Disability Benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Program Administration and Administrative Funding

R44645: Social Security Administration (SSA): FY2017 Appropriations and Recent Trends

94-803: Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustments

Legislative History

The following provides a legislative history of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the second session of the 113th Congress through the first session of the 114th Congress. For prior history, please see prior editions of the Green Book. 

113th CONGRESS

Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (Division B of P.L. 113-295)

The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) of 2014 amended the Internal Revenue Code to permit a state to sponsor a tax-advantaged savings program through which contributions may be made to the ABLE account of an eligible disabled individual to pay for disability-related expenses. Assets in an ABLE account and distributions from the account for qualified disability expenses are disregarded in determining the account owner’s eligibility for most federal means-tested programs. Under the SSI program, only the first $100,000 in an ABLE account is disregarded. The balance of an ABLE account above $100,000 is treated as a financial resource to the SSI recipient and is counted against the program’s $2,000 limit ($3,000 for a couple). If an ABLE account owner becomes ineligible for SSI due solely to excess ABLE funds, his or her cash benefits are suspended (without a time limit) until the balance of the ABLE account falls to or below $100,000. This suspension does not affect the individual’s eligibility for Medicaid.

114th CONGRESS

Ensuring Access to Clinical Trials Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-63)

The Ensuring Access to Clinical Trials Act of 2015 made permanent a provision in the Improving Access to Clinical Trials Act of 2009 (P.L.111-255) that disregards the first $2,000 per calendar year received by an SSI recipient as compensation for participation in a clinical trial involving research and testing of treatments for a rare disease or condition.

Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (Division Q of P.L. 114-113)

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 amended the ABLE Act to eliminate the requirement that an ABLE account be established only in the account owner’s state of residence. A SSI recipient in one state may open an ABLE account in another state, provided that state permits out-of-state residents to participate in its ABLE program.

This page was prepared October 2016 for the 2016 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.