Too Many Assets to Qualify for SSI?

July 21st, 2011, byMichelle Singletary

Q: Despite having raised the debt ceiling, the government ignores the ceiling of assets for those on SSI. It has not changed for twenty years. Why?

Bob, Monroe Township, NJ

A: You really are comparing apples and oranges. The debt ceiling that is making headline news right now has to do with the legal limit on borrowing by the federal government. Under debate right now is the fact that the nation’s debt is coming closer to the legal limit of $14.3 trillion. If the ceiling is not increased, the government can’t borrow if it needs to pay its debts, and that may result in the United States defaulting on some of its debt obligations.

Now, as for Supplemental Security Income or SSI, it is a federal program that is administered by the Social Security Administration. Under this program, the Social Security Administration pays monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources, who are disabled, blind or age 65 or older. Blind or disabled children, as well as adults, can get SSI benefits. Unlike Social Security benefits, SSI benefits are not based on your prior work or a family member’s prior work.

So, to qualify for the program, you have to be essentially poor. The ceiling in this case has nothing to do with debt, but a person’s resources and income. You can’t have a lot of money or assets to get SSI. Currently, the limit is $2,000 for an individual or child and $3,000 for a married couple. Social Security does not count everything you own. For example, the following are not counted:

• The home you live in and the land it is on.
• Life insurance with a face value of $1,500 or less.
• Typically, your car, if it is used for employment, to obtain medical care or to transport a disabled individual.
• Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family; and up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse.

It is true that because the asset limit is so low, it’s hard for many people to qualify for benefits. SSI eligibility as it relates to assets has not kept pace with the cost of living. One could argue that the asset limit should be raised so more people could get assistance. There’s little chance the asset limit will be raised, given the current federal deficit discussions in which cuts to social safety net programs are a possibility.

Last modified: July 21, 2011 at 1:12 pm