Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Common Pitfalls

Not knowing which Social Security benefits you get

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, open a free my Social Security account or 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).

Not giving enough information when you apply

When you apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the decision can take a long time. You don’t want Social Security to deny your application because of some missing piece of information. Make sure you include contact information for all doctors, physical therapists, and others who have treated you for your disability.

However, you also want to apply as soon as you can, because if you are approved for SSI you will be paid your benefits for the entire time back to the date you applied. If you don’t have everything ready when you apply, that’s OK — go ahead and apply with as many details as you can, but be sure to send any missing information as quickly as possible.

Waiting too long to file an appeal

If you feel that Social Security made an incorrect decision, you can file an appeal:

  • If you are denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you have 60 days from when you get the denial letter to file an appeal. Do it quickly. If you don’t appeal within 60 days, you may lose the right to appeal.
  • If you were already on SSI and are appealing a change in your benefits amount or an overpayment notice, you should 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.
  • Note: Social Security figures that you get a letter within five days after they sent it.

Learn more about appeals.

Contact the Arizona Center for Disability Law for help with appeals.

Refiling, rather than appealing, if you are denied SSI benefits

If the Social Security Administration denies your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and you disagree with the decision, file an appeal. Do not just fill out the application forms again — that would be refiling.

If you appeal and win, your benefits will be paid back to your original application date. If you refile, Social Security will start all over and you will not get any past benefits you might have gotten.

Learn more about appeals.

Contact the Arizona Center for Disability Law for help with appeals.

Not working because you think you’ll lose benefits you need

Many people on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are afraid to work because they think they’ll lose their SSI benefits and automatic AHCCCS coverage. However, SSI’s rules are designed to make work possible.

When you work, SSI’s earned income exclusion means that you get to keep at least your first $65 in earned income each month without lowering your SSI benefits at all. After that, every dollar of earnings only reduces your SSI benefits amount by fifty cents, so you usually end up with more money than you would if you weren’t working.

If you earn enough for your SSI benefits to go to zero, you may be able to keep your AHCCCS coverage through SSI’s 1619(b) rule or through AHCCCS Freedom to Work. Even if you lose your AHCCCS, you should either become eligible for 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.

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If you stop getting SSI benefits and then your job doesn’t work out, you may be able to get back on SSI benefits quickly through quick benefits restart or Expedited Reinstatement (EXR), as long as you still have a disability and meet other SSI rules.

The bottom line: Most people on SSI who go back to work end up better off.

Learn how work affects your other benefits

When you start working, your work income may affect other benefits you get, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Nutrition Assistance (formerly Food Stamps), TANF Cash Assistance, and Section 8, just to name a few.

All of these programs have rules designed to make sure that people who start working end up better off, but the details of the rules depend on each program. Make sure you talk to a Work Incentive Consultant who understands the other benefits you get.

Not documenting work expenses

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) or Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) are expenses related to your disability that support your work. Social Security subtracts these expenses from your countable income when calculating your benefits amount. This means you get higher SSI benefits.

You must have receipts or cancelled checks for all IRWEs or BWEs, otherwise Social Security will not subtract them from your countable income. Make sure you always get receipts for all work expenses and file them with Social Security.

If you have any questions about IRWEs and BWEs or about how to tell Social Security about them, talk with a Work Incentive Consultant.

Not reporting changes in income, resources, or living situation

If your earned income, unearned income, resources, marital status, or living arrangements change, even slightly, you must report the change twice:

  • To your local DES/Family Assistance Administration office within 10 days of when the change happens.
  • To Social Security at the start of the month after the change. You can report:
    • In person, by phone, or by fax during the first 10 days of the next month.
    • Using the SSI Telephone Reporting System, the SSI reporting app, or My Social Security during the first 6 days of the next month.

If you don’t report a change, Social Security may pay you too much in SSI benefits. This is called an overpayment. When Social Security figures out the mistake, you may have to pay money back.

Ways to report your income to Social Security

For SSI, you can report changes:

When you report, you’ll need to have documentation, such as a letter explaining any changes and copies of your paystubs. If you have questions about the best way to report your earnings, talk to your local Social Security office or talk to a Work Incentive Consultant.

Note: If you also get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must report your income separately for SSI and SSDI. Ask your Social Security claims representative how you should report income for SSDI.

Not responding promptly to an overpayment notice

If Social Security decides that they paid you more in benefits than they should have, they’ll send you a letter telling you they’ve made an overpayment and explaining how much money you must pay back.

Deal with an overpayment notice right away. The overpayment letter will ask for the money to be returned within 30 days, but Social Security is willing to work out a reasonable monthly payment plan with you. Contact your local Social Security office immediately to talk about your options or call 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Learn more