Q & A

Q: Why do the illegals receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monies in Utah?  Please do not tell me they don’t, as I know they do.  Why are they tapping into our retirement fund and our disability money?  What will you do to stop this abuse of legal citizens of the United States?  Why isn’t Social Security making a stand on this and having news conferences to clear this up? —
Karen L.

A:  Administered by the Social Security Administration, the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) provides monthly benefits to seniors, age 65 or older, and to younger persons who are disabled or blind.  SSI is not funded the same way as Social Security and has different eligibility rules.  The benefits aren’t paid from Social Security payroll taxes but through general tax revenues.

To be eligible for SSI, a person must have a limited income and financial resources.  But by law a person can be eligible even if he or she has never paid into Social Security. Generally, law changes made in 1996 require individuals to be both a resident of the United States and a citizen — or a lawfully admitted non-citizen — to be eligible for SSI. However, an illegal alien may be eligible for benefits if he or she meets the low-income criteria and other requirements.  There are eight categories of exceptions, one of which includes active duty members of the U.S. armed forces (for example).  If an alien is found eligible for SSI, he or she may also be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, and other social services.

We would be unable to say precisely why illegal immigrants are receiving SSI in your state.  Some may have met the SSI eligibility criteria.  However, the Government Accountability Office has estimated that in fiscal year 2005 some $2.9 billion in SSI benefits were improperly paid, including payments to ineligible individuals.

The abuse, as you point out, hurts legal citizens because it takes funding away from those who are legitimately eligible.  Over the past 13 years TSCL has supported stronger anti-fraud enforcement, and more recently, has publicized nationally the cost to Social Security of illegal immigration.