Social Security’s 3 Main Assistance Programs

( – It’s common knowledge to most Americans that the US government provides retirement income from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA also provides income assistance to low-income individuals who qualify as well as those with disabilities. In 2021, nearly 70 million Americans qualified to receive benefits from an SSA program.

Do you know what SSA benefits you or your family are eligible to receive? The programs offered by SSA have different eligibility requirements with some overlap between them. The programs administered include Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Supplement Security Income.

Retirement Benefits

The most common SSA program is Social Security Retirement. Anyone who has ever worked and earned a minimum amount is eligible to receive benefits once they reach the age of 62. You begin to pay into this retirement system with your first job and continue until you reach retirement.

Your employer will deduct 6.2% percent of your wages before tax to cover this benefit, and then you, as the employee, match this amount for a total of 12.4%. Self-employed individuals pay this same percentage when filing income taxes quarterly or annually to pay into the program. The program does set a maximum payment for individuals to pay into the system each year, which is capped at $9,114.00 regardless of how much or how little you make.

How much you qualify for is determined by several factors. Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

How to determine your retirement benefits

SSA determines your benefits using a credit system. Those born after 1929 need 40 credits, or 10 years of work. The program also sets minimum retirement ages to receive full benefits through the program. Those born between 1943 and 1954 can retire at the age of 66 and receive full SSA retirement benefits. If you were born after 1955, the minimum age is 67.

The maximum monthly benefit for an individual is $4,194 each month. Delaying your retirement will actually qualify you for greater benefits. The SSA calculates the amount based on the highest 35 years of earnings, which likely will eliminate seasonal jobs and those early low-earning career years.

Social Security Disability Insurance

SSA also offers another program for individuals and qualified family members who become disabled and cannot work until retirement age. This program is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Terminal conditions and medical conditions that make it impossible for you to work at least a year could qualify for SSDI benefits. The requirements are simple. Temporary or partial disabilities do not qualify. You’ll need to have worked recently enough, for long enough, and paid Social Security taxes to be eligible for this benefit.

Who determines if I’m disabled?

SSA reviews each case to determine if it qualifies for SSDI using a formula and checklist. If it meets the basic eligibility requirement, SSA forwards your case to your state’s Disability Determination Services offices to gather information and evidence about your exact diagnosis, when your medical condition began, your test results and prognosis, and how your disability limits activities up to and including work.

The Disability Determination Services will ask specific questions regarding work activities such as walking, sitting, lifting, and even remembering basic tasks and instructions. They’ll either decide that your disability qualifies for benefits or, in the event of uncertainty, they’ll refer you to another doctor for a second opinion. SSA will cover both the medical and travel expenses of additional exams necessary to determine your qualification status.

DDS will also review your case to see if you can work in a different position or if your condition will allow you to work again within a 12-month period. This will influence the final decision. Your application will likely be denied if there’s another position available that you’re able to do or if you are likely to significantly improve within the next year and be able to resume employment.

How do they calculate SSDI benefits?

The SSDI calculates disability benefits using your age, work history, and average income in the years before the disability. The average SSDI benefit in 2022 was $1,223 a month with a maximum distribution of $3,345 a month.

Supplemental Security Income

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is administered by SSA to provide income assistance to older, disabled, or blind people with low income and limited assets.

Qualifying for SSI

The federal benefit rate (FBR), as of 2022, is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple if both are eligible. SSI is a supplemental program and has been designed to add to existing retirement or disability income. In other words, you’ll be able to qualify for SSI in addition to the other two SSA benefits.

The following wages are not included in your SSI calculation:

  • $20 per month of income
  • $65 per month in wages, and half the amount over $65 ($32.50)
  • Income from wages that are used to pay for tools or services that help you work due to your disability
  • If you’re blind, income from wages you use for work expenses

The SSI program supplements your income so that qualified recipients are able to obtain their basic needs of clothing, food, and shelter. Your benefit amount will depend on where you live as well as other sources of income. Some states contribute additional funds to the federal money provided by SSI, and recipients in those states may qualify for higher benefit amounts.

How SSA determines benefits

SSA will look at the following assets and income to determine your eligibility for SSI.

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks, bonds, and other investments
  • Cash (what’s in your checking or savings account)
  • Your total assets, which can’t exceed $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple

Social Security income, a pension, or wages will reduce the amount you qualify for through SSI. Your living arrangements can also impact your benefits. You may receive reduced SSI payments if you live with a relative or if another person is paying your household expenses.

Many people who qualify for SSI benefits receive assistance from other public or private sources. There aren’t any limits on how much outside help you can get to qualify for the SSI program. If your assistance comes from one of these organizations, you can still qualify for SSI.

  • Housing or food you get from non-profit groups
  • Home energy assistance help
  • Grants and scholarships that are used for tuition or other educational expenses
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits

Social security is more than just retirement income for Americans. You or your family may qualify for additional benefits from SSDI or SSI. To check your eligibility or to read more about these programs, you can visit the US Social Security Administration website or contact an agency near you.

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