Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) is different from Social Security benefits for insured workers. The U.S. Congress funds SSI annually directly from federal coffers. There is no trust fund for SSI and workers do not contribute to it during their working career. SSI benefits are available to citizens and legal residents who may have never worked or paid into the Social Security fund. Qualifying for SSI is based on income and economic status. Disabled children and adults can also receive SSI benefits. Unlike insured benefits based on a person's income, monthly SSI amounts are determined annually; every recipient receives the same amount.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) to determine a person's income. An SSI recipient must meet all three aspects of SGA for disqualification from SSI benefits. The activity is work. The SSA looks at the level of involvement, physical labor and training necessary to do work. If the work is considered very light and requiring little or no skills, then the activity is not substantial and not considered work. If the income amounts are very low (less than $840 monthly in 2010), then the work is not substantial. Income from investments or inheritance is not substantial and would not meet SGA.
If the income amount exceeds $840 monthly and requires trained skills or considerable physical effort, then it is a substantial gainful activity and the worker would not qualify for SSI.
An applicant for SSI disability must be unable to work and meet the SGA requirements for income. Workers who are no longer able to do a particular job may not qualify for disability if the worker can be retrained to do less physically or mentally demanding work.
A child applying for SSI disability is based on the ability to function normally in education and social settings. There are no income rules for a child.
As a person ages, SSA allows more income. A person can receive reduced SSI benefits at age 62 and work full time. If applying at the SSA retirement age (65 for persons born before 1955, 67.5 for persons born after 1960 and 69 if born after 1970,) the recipient can receive full benefits and work full time. At age 72, benefits are paid in full whether the recipient applies for benefits or not.