What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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SSI is a federal program that helps people who have disabilities, are blind, or are over age 65 and also have low income and limited resources. It is run by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

If you qualify for SSI, you get monthly cash payments to help you pay for your basic needs.

What is Adult Public Assistance (APA)?

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APA is a state program that helps adults with disabilities and seniors age 65 or older. To qualify, you must have low income and limited resources. It is run by the Alaska Division of Public Assistance (DPA). Most people who qualify for APA also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you qualify for APA, you get monthly payments to help you pay for your basic needs. You also automatically qualify for Medicaid health coverage.

What is the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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Social Security has two disability benefits programs with very similar names:

Some people qualify for both programs at the same time. If you get benefits from Social Security, but aren’t sure which ones you get, order a free Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Whom can I call to ask questions about SSI and APA?

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If you have questions about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) or visit your local Social Security office.

If you have questions about Adult Public Assistance (APA), contact your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office.

If you want to ask about how work might affect your SSI or APA benefits, try contacting:

Who qualifies for SSI and APA?

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To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA), you must:

Many people qualify for both programs, but some only qualify for one or the other. For example:

  • APA has a higher income limit, so some people get APA benefits, but not SSI.
  • APA is only for people 18 years old or older, so some children get SSI benefits, but not APA.

How can I apply for SSI and APA?

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For Supplemental Security Income (SSI): You can apply at your local Social Security office or by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY). You can start your application online by filling out an Adult Disability Report, but you must complete it by phone or in person.

For Adult Public Assistance (APA): You can apply by filling out the DPA Application for Services and submitting it to your local Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office by mail, fax, email, or in person.

Tip: Do the applications for both SSI and APA. If your countable income appears low enough for you to get SSI benefits, you have to show you have applied for SSI before you can be approved for APA. Examples of ways to prove you applied for SSI: a letter from Social Security showing you've applied, an SSI award letter, or a proof that you got an SSI benefit for the current month.

I’ve never had a job. Can I get SSI and APA?

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Yes. You do not need to have worked to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA).

How does Social Security define disability?

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To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA), you must show that you have a disability that meets the standards set by the Social Security Administration. To meet these standards as an adult:
  • You must be able to show medical reports that confirm that you have a severe physical or mental disability.
  • The disability must be life-threatening or have lasted or be expected to last at least a year.
  • The disability must prevent you from doing Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) for at least a year.

Learn more about how SSI and APA check whether you have a disability.

Does what I have in the bank and the property I own affect my eligibility for SSI and APA?

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Yes. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) programs have very strict limits on how much money you can have and on what you own. To qualify, you cannot have more than $2,000 in resources ($3,000 for couples).

The home you live in and one vehicle are not included in those limits. Certain other resources are also not included.

Additionally, if your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where you can keep up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI or APA. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Once I apply, how long will it take to get benefits?

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The application process can take four months or longer. If you’re approved for SSI, Social Security will pay you for benefits going all the way back to the date you applied. That’s why it is important to apply as soon as you can. If you are approved for APA, you may get retroactive benefits, if you were not getting Interim Assistance (IA) before being approved for APA.

Can I get other help while waiting on my SSI and APA applications?

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Perhaps. When you apply for Adult Public Assistance (APA), your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office checks if you qualify for Interim Assistance (IA). Interim Assistance (IA) is a $280 monthly payment for low-income people with disabilities who are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and APA and waiting for approval. Once you start getting SSI benefits, your IA benefits end. Not everybody who ends up qualifying for APA gets IA benefits.

Your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office may also be able to help you get Food Stamps, Medicaid health coverage, and Alaska Temporary Assistance Program (ATAP), if you need them.

I disagree with Social Security’s decision to deny me SSI benefits or to reduce my benefits. Is there anything I can do?

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Yes. If you feel that Social Security’s decision is incorrect, you can file an appeal:
  • Do it quickly. You have 60 days from the date you get a denial letter to file an appeal. If you don’t appeal within 60 days, you may not be able to appeal.
  • If you are already on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and are appealing a change in your benefits amount or an overpayment notice, appeal within 10 days. If you do, you might keep getting your original SSI benefits amount until Social Security makes a decision about your appeal.
  • You can file your appeal online or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY) and ask them to send you an SSI appeal form. If you file online, you need to mail or deliver any new information about your situation to Social Security.
  • Note: Social Security figures that you get a letter within five days after they sent it.

For an appeal, you may want to get help from a lawyer. The Disability Law Center of Alaska (1-800-478-1234) and Alaska Legal Services are statewide legal resources that can help.

For how long can I get SSI and APA benefits?

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You can keep getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) benefits as long as you have a disability and meet the income, resource, and other requirements of the two programs.

From time to time, Social Security checks to make sure that you still qualify. A medical Continuing Disability Review (CDR) looks at whether you are still medically disabled. A redetermination looks at your income, resources, and living arrangements.

For APA, the Division of Public Assistance (DPA) may do annual reviews to make sure you still qualify for benefits. If DPA asks for any information for a review, make sure you submit what they have requested.

How does my income affect my SSI and APA benefits?

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Alaska Division of Public Assistance (DPA) look at your income when they decide whether you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA). How much you get in benefits also depends on your income.

Your sources of income can include:

When they look at your income, they calculate that you should be spending some of it on your basic needs. The part of your monthly income that SSI and APA expects you to spend on basic needs is called your countable income. The more countable income you have, the lower your combined amount of SSI and APA benefits will be.

Not all of your income counts. For example, they only count half or less of your earned income. That means that you could be earning quite a bit and still have countable income below the limit.

The bottom line: You’ll usually be better off if you work while you are getting benefits.

Learn more about how your income is counted.

How does the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) affect my SSI and APA benefits?

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The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) doesn’t affect Adult Public Assistance (APA) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for most people:
  • APA does not count the PFD as income, so when you get your PFD each year, your APA continues unchanged.
  • SSI counts the PFD as unearned income, but you get the same amount of money from SSI because the state of Alaska repays Social Security for any SSI overpayments caused by your PFD.

Tip: Make sure the PFD doesn’t cause your resources to go over SSI’s resource limit. If it goes over the limit, your SSI benefits could end. One way to do this is to put your PFD into an ABLE account.

What happens to my SSI and APA benefits if I move into a nursing home or other medical facility?

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If you live in a medical facility, such as a hospital or nursing home, you probably can’t get full Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) benefits:
  • If Medicaid pays for more than half the cost of your care in the facility, the most you can get in SSI benefits is $30 per month and for APA, the most you can get is $170 per month.
  • If Medicaid does not pay for more than half of your care in the facility, you may qualify for a different benefits amount.
  • If your doctor says you will be in the facility for less than 90 days and you can show that you need your SSI benefits to keep your home or living arrangement, you may continue to get your full SSI benefits.
    • Note: If you’re expecting to stay for less than 90 days, you need to get the doctor’s note and documentation about your need to Social Security right away. The facility’s admissions office can help you.

What should I do if my income or living arrangements change?

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If your earned income, unearned income, marital status, or living arrangements change, even slightly, you must:
  1. Report the change to Social Security. For SSI, report changes from one month within the first 6 days of the following month to avoid an overpayment.
  2. Report the change to your local Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office. For APA, report changes within 10 days after the change happened.

Learn more about how to report changes.

Does my health coverage change when I go back to work?

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As long as your countable income is below the APA need standard, you qualify for Medicaid health coverage.

However, even if you earn enough at work that you go over the APA need standard, you can usually keep Medicaid coverage. Depending on your income and resource levels, Medicaid coverage can continue either through SSI’s 1619(b) rule or through the Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In.

If you lose your Medicaid coverage, there should be another health coverage option you can get, such as employer-sponsored coverage or private individual coverage. And, if you can’t afford the individual coverage, the government may help you pay for it through tax credits.

The bottom line: There is a coverage option for almost everybody. Do not worry that getting a job will leave you without health coverage.

Try DB101's Finding the Right Health Coverage for You interactive guide.

What happens if I go to work, lose my SSI benefits, and then find I can’t work anymore?

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If you stop getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) because you have a job, but then you lose your job and your income goes down, you may not have to reapply for SSI and APA benefits.

If it has been less than 12 months since your last SSI payment, you can get your benefits started up again by reporting to your local Social Security office and Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office that you are no longer working.

For APA, if your income never went over the APA need standard, contact your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office and report that you aren’t working. Your APA benefits should start up again. If your income went over the APA need standard, you may need to reapply.

If it’s been more than 12 months since you got SSI benefits, you can ask for Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) if:

  • Your SSI benefits amount went to zero because of your income
  • You can’t work at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level because of your disability
  • Your current medical impairment is the same as the one that originally made you eligible for SSI, and
  • You stopped getting SSI benefits less than five years ago.

If you get EXR, you can get up to six months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security checks to make sure you still qualify for the program.