How Is the Amount of My SSI Benefits Determined?

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Supplemental Security Income provides assistance to people who are disabled, blind or over age 65 who do not have sufficient work history to qualify for an equal amount of Social Security benefits. SSI starts with a base amount from the federal government, and some states add a supplement. The Social Security Administration monitors monthly income and assets of SSI recipients, determining qualification and determining the amount of the monthly payment. SSI payments may not be the same each month.

Base Amount and Additions

The federal SSI benefit is $674 a month for each qualifying SSI recipient as of 2011. Your state may add a supplemental payment to that amount, either through SSI or separately. If your state administers its own program, you will receive your SSI payment and an additional monthly stipend from the state. If you have changes in your income or living arrangements and you notify the SSA, the effect of the change is two months forward from the month you report. You always know the amount of your check two months in advance.

Earned Income Subtractions

You must report earned or unearned income to the SSA within 10 days of the end of the month. Earned income has a $65 exemption each month before it affects your SSI check. The SSA subtracts amounts you earn over $65 at 50 percent. If you make $265 this month, $65 is exempt. This leaves $200 to multiply by 50 percent or divide by 2. The result is $100, which will be subtracted from your SSI check in two months to make that month benefit $574.

Unearned Income Subtractions

If you receive Social Security, veterans’ benefits, interest income or similar income you do not work for, this is unearned income for SSI. Unearned income has a $20 exemption from calculations, and all other unearned income counts at 100 percent. If you receive $200 from Social Security each month, subtract the $20 that is exempt. That leaves $180 to subtract from your SSI benefit. The $674 monthly check less $180 leaves you $494 for the month in federal SSI benefits.

Living Arrangements

SSI reviews your living arrangements for calculation of benefits, and if your living arrangements change, you must notify the Social Security Administration. If you do not pay a fair share of rent and utilities, you may not receive the full SSI benefit. The maximum reduction of your benefit can be one-third, or approximately $244 based on the 2011 figure of $674. If you live rent-free, you may start with $430 in federal funds for your monthly SSI payment before application of earned and unearned income.

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