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By Athena Mandros

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve focused on the link between the social determinants of health, health outcomes, and health care spending (see Social Determinants Of Health – How Housing & Other Social Support Services Influence Spending, The Social Service Factor In The Health Care Value Equation, and Making The Connection Between Health Care Costs & Social Support Services). And that link is clear – when consumers lack access to affordable housing, a healthy diet, and steady income, their health often suffers as a result.

For consumers who lack access to the social determinants of health, social service programs provide a necessary safety-net through the provision of food, clothing, housing, or even cash benefits. One of the largest programs that provides cash benefits is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides monthly payments to aged and disabled individuals with limited income. (For the differences between the SSI and SSDI programs, see Helping The Consumers Who Need Income Assistance Navigate SSI & SSDI.) Disabilities covered under SSI include both cognitive and mental impairments – which means that many consumers being served by behavioral health provider organizations may be eligible for, and already receiving, SSI benefits.

Eligibility for SSI is based on three requirements: consumers must be over the age of 65, or have a disability; consumers must have low-income; and consumers must meet U.S. residency requirements. To meet the disability criteria, an individual must be able to demonstrate that they cannot work due to the impairment. There are no specific diagnoses criteria. To meet the income criteria, an individual must have income below $733 for an individual or $1,100 for a couple. Unlike other social service programs, food and shelter provided to an individual count against their income (although this does not include SNAP or other state/local assistance).

The benefits provided to individuals over the age of 65 and individuals with a disability are the same – the only difference is how they are categorized (age or disability). An individual’s benefit is computed as their eligible income, minus the maximum SSI payment. For example, if an individual has $116 in countable earned income per month, then their monthly SSI benefit would be $617 ($733 – $116 = $617). The maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $733 a month and $1,100 a month for a couple in FY2016 (see SSI Federal Payment Amounts For 2016). On average, SSI beneficiaries received $516.12 per month in benefits in FY2014.

In FY2014, about 8.3 million individuals participated in the program per month – representing about 2.51% of the U.S. population. This is an increase of 8.6% over 2009, when 7.7 million individuals participated in the program. The majority of SSI beneficiaries qualify on the basis of disability – in 2014, 86.6% of beneficiaries qualified on a basis of disability.

The SSI program doesn’t regularly track the specific impairments of individuals who receive SSI payments. However, in 2011, 60% of SSI beneficiaries received benefits on the basis of a mental impairment and 40% on the basis of a physical impairment. The top five specific impairments overall were intellectual disability at 20%, affective disorders at 17%, schizoaffective disorders at 9%, back disorders at 5.9%, and diseases of the musculoskeletal system at 5.5%.

Spending on SSI cash assistance payments totaled $54.2 billion In FY2014. The amount spent on cash assistance payments has steadily increased since 2009, when spending was $45.9 billion. Between 2009 and 2014, there was an increase of 18%. SSI payments are expected to increase in 2015, but then drop back down to 2014 levels (see Annual Report Of The Supplemental Security Income Program).

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For more detail on the SSI program be sure to check out: What Are The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program Eligibility Requirements & Benefits? An OPEN MINDS Market Intelligence Report. This report explores the SSI program in depth – including program spending, eligibility requirements, and benefits – and answers the following questions:

  1. What Is The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program?
  2. What Does The U.S. Spend On The SSI Program & How Does It Compare To Other Income Assistance Programs?
  3. What Is The Average SSI Benefit?
  4. How Is Eligibility For SSI Determined?
  5. What Are The Characteristics Of SSI Recipients & How Have They Changed Over Time?
  6. How Does SSI Incentivize Individuals To Work?

And for more on how to help consumers meet their daily needs, check out Helping Low-Income Consumers Access The Resources They Need and Helping Consumers With Food Insecurity: What Services Are Available? And next week, we’ll provide a wrap-up of the remaining programs that offer benefits to ensuring individuals have access to food, housing, and income.


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