SIKESTON - For those who are disabled but have not contributed to the Social Security fund, there is still a "safety net": Supplemental Security Income.
"Supplemental Security Income is a program that started in January 1974," said Vernestine Bounds, district manager for Sikeston Social Security office which services Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi counties.
She noted the federal funding for the SSI program does not come from the Social Security tax. "These are general revenue dollars," Bounds said. Unlike Social Security's disability program, recipients "do not contribute to this fund," Bounds said. "There's no contribution like the Social Security tax."
People who receive benefits from the SSI program were formerly covered by state welfare programs which administered a mix of state and federal funds for programs the state called Old Age Assistance for those age 65 and up, now known as the "Aged Benefit," as well as "the disabled from any age" birth to age 65.
The program now operates on just federal funds. "We administer the program," Bounds said.
The SSI program is still divided into categories: the aged, the disabled and the blind.
Bounds said there are income and resources eligibility factors that must be satisfied before being approved for SSI.
Income guidelines allow for an individual to bring in $564 per month and a couple to make $846, "and then we have to look at any other kind of income," Bounds said. "That could be wages, Social Security benefits, pensions. Income can also include things like food, clothing or shelter if that's being provided. We have to look at all of that."
"Resources" include things like money in the bank, the face value of life insurance policies, property, burial programs and burial plots, as well as "things you own," according to Bounds. "And we look at bank accounts, cash, stocks and bonds, as to the value. We have to look at the resource limit which is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Not everything counts - we have to look at what's excluded. Generally they can have a house and land they live on, they can have a vehicle." Marital status affects the number of vehicles recipients are allowed to own, she added.
There are other criteria. "You must live in the United States or the northern Mariana Islands, and be a U.S. citizen or a national," Bounds said.
"Some non-citizen residents can apply - we have to look at other factors," she continued. "Generally if you are a non-citizen, you may be eligible for SSI if you were lawfully living in the United States on Aug. 22, 1996, and you were blind or disabled on that date, or if you were receiving SSI on Aug. 22, 1996.
"The second part is you if were lawfully admitted for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationality Act and have a total 40 credits of work in the U.S. Your spouse or parents' work may also count."
Determining what counts as a disability as far as SSI is concerned is not among the local Social Security offices' duties.
"As for the disability decision, all we do is collect the information and get medical release forms signed by them," Bounds said, "then we send it to the Disability Determination Section which is in Cape Girardeau, which is a state agency, and that is the agency that will make the medical determination."
"There's many impairments that can qualify you for SSI," said John Garlinger, communications director from the Social Security regional office in Kansas City. The question is, "Does it make you disabled by our definition?"
For children, the criteria is "some kind of a physical or mental condition, or a combination of both, that results in a severe functional limitation that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death," Garlinger said. "For adults, severe physical or mental condition, or a combination, that prevents them from working that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death."
Conditions such as "severe heart or lung impairment, severe arthritis, severe back problems, severe and persistent mental illness are examples of things that could qualify," said Garlinger. "Each case is looked at and evaluated individually."
"We generally give an average time period of 90-120 days for processing a disability application," Bounds said. "We don't know how soon the medical sources will give the information to them. Or once they get the medical evidence, whether it's enough to make the determination. Sometimes it's not and they have to get further medical information."
Bounds added that applicants must cooperate with the Disability Determination Section to be eligible.
For more information on SSI, call toll free at 800-772-1213 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov on the Internet.