Supplemental Security Income Introduction and Overview


The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a means tested, federally-administered income assistance program authorized by Title XVI of the Social Security Act.  Established in 1972 (Public Law 92-603), with benefits first paid in 1974, SSI provides monthly cash payments in accordance with uniform, nationwide eligibility requirements to needy aged, blind, and disabled persons.  In July 2014, there were 8.4 million SSI recipients receiving $4.7 billion in monthly benefit payments.

The SSI program replaced the federal-state programs of Old Age Assistance and Aid to the Blind established by the original Social Security Act of 1935, as well as the program of Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled established by the Social Security Amendments of 1950. Under these programs, federal matching funds were offered to the states to enable them to give cash relief, “as far as practicable” in each state, to eligible persons whom the states deemed needy.  The states set benefit levels and administered these programs.  These federal-state adult assistance programs continue to operate in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  Under the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, enacted as Public Law 94-241 on March 24, 1976, the Northern Mariana Islands is the only jurisdiction outside the 50 states and the District of Columbia in which residents are eligible for the SSI program.

The Congress intended the new SSI program to be more than just a federal version of the former state adult assistance programs, which it replaced.  In describing the new program, the report of the Committee on Finance stated:

The Committee bill would make a major departure from the traditional concept of public assistance as it now applies to the aged, the blind, and the disabled.  Building on the present Social Security program, it would create a new federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), designed to provide a positive assurance that the nation's aged, blind, and disabled people would no longer have to subsist on below poverty level incomes (Senate Report No. 92-1230, p. 384; U.S. Senate, Committee on Finance, Sept. 26, 1972).

The SSI program was envisioned as a basic national income maintenance system for the aged, blind, and disabled, which would differ from the state programs it replaced in a number of ways.  It would be administered by SSA in a manner as comparable as possible to the way in which benefits were administered under the Social Security Old-Age, Survivor, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs.  While it was understood that modifications would be necessary to make SSA's systems work for the new program, SSI was seen as an add-on rather than a new system.  

Under the former adult assistance programs, the amount of assistance could vary from person to person according to an evaluation of the individual's needs.  The SSI program, by contrast, represented a “flat grant” approach in which there would be a uniform federal income support level.

It should be noted that even though SSA administers the SSI program, SSI is not the same as Social Security. The SSI program is funded by general revenues of the U.S. Treasury – which are comprised of personal income taxes, corporate taxes, and other taxes.  Social Security benefits are funded by the Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons.  The programs also differ in other ways such as the conditions of eligibility and the method of determining payments.  In addition, states have the option of supplementing the basic federal SSI payment.  In some cases, state supplementary payments are administered by the state instead of SSA.

Chapter Overview

This chapter of the Green Book includes a series of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports organized under the following general headings:

  • Supplemental Security Income: Program Basics;
  • Supplemental Security Income: Additional Program Provisions; and
  • Social Security Administration: Program Administration and Administrative Funding.

Readers should consult the reports listed under each of these headings for information and data related to these topics. A Tables and Figures section provides a list of the tables and figures included in the CRS reports, and a separate section includes Additional Tables and Figures related to SSI, followed by a Legislative History and Links to Additional Resources.

This page was prepared on August 18, 2014, for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.