Income is a key factor in determining eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a monthly benefit for people who are disabled, blind or 65 and older and in financial straits. The Social Security Administration (SSA), which operates the program, strictly regulates the type and amount of income someone can receive and still qualify for SSI.
There are also income limits that affect eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the other disability benefit administered by the SSA. But for SSDI, only earnings from work count.
For SSI, Social Security defines income much more broadly, as “any item an individual receives in cash or in-kind that can be used to meet his or her need for food or shelter.” That includes earnings from work but also money or services you might receive from other sources, such as government programs or family members.
In 2021, the maximum federal SSI benefit is $794 a month for an individual and $1,191 a month for a married couple if both spouses are eligible. (The federal amounts are adjusted annually for inflation; most states add supplementary payments for some beneficiaries.) What the SSA calls “countable income” is deducted from those payments, and if your countable income exceeds the benefit cap, you cannot get SSI.
However, some income is not countable and doesn't affect SSI eligibility or payments. This includes the first $20 you receive per month from most sources and a larger portion of what you make from work, along with other exceptions noted below.
There are four categories of countable income: earned income, unearned income, in-kind income and deemed income.