How Long Does it Take to Receive Past Due Benefits for SSI?

Supplemental Security Income benefits require screening for eligibility by the Social Security Administration. An individual must be disabled, blind or over age 65 and must have limited resources and income to meet SSI qualifications. Qualified recipients start with a $674 monthly benefit from the federal government in 2011 and some states add a supplemental benefit. Social Security offsets the benefit amount with living arrangements and income deductions. Social Security delays benefits until it completes evaluation, screening and calculations. Even after Social Security approves your benefits, you may not receive retroactive benefits for months.

Preliminary Screening

The Social Security Administration takes the information from the SSI applicant for review. During the course of the next few weeks, Social Security checks information for accuracy and qualification. When Social Security believes the applicant will meet the income and resource tests, it forwards a disability or blind claim to the state disability determination service. This group reviews the medical information to determine if the person qualifies for SSI. For this reason, disability and blind claims take longer to process than age benefit claims.

Resources and Living Arrangements

The SSI recipient can qualify with $2,000 or less in resources that count, like cash and money in the bank. A house and lot, household furnishings, life insurance or burial insurance up to $1,500 and burial plots do not count as resources for SSI. The Social Security Administration checks bank accounts and assets you report to confirm your eligibility. If you attempt to qualify by selling or giving away assets, this may delay your SSI claim. Your living arrangements affect your SSI benefits. If you do not pay your fair share of rent and utilities, your SSI benefits may reflect this with a one-third reduction. A Social Security employee asks you about living arrangements and confirms your benefit amount.

Installment Payments

Once you qualify for benefits, you start receiving a monthly SSI check. If you have retroactive benefits in an amount greater than the maximum monthly federal benefit plus any state benefit, SSI distributes three payments over 18 months unless you can make a case for receiving benefits earlier. Outstanding debt relating to food, clothing, shelter or medical needs may qualify you for early benefits. The first two payments cannot usually be greater than three times the maximum monthly amount of federal and state benefits, while the last check pays the remainder. Retroactive benefits count as resources nine months after you receive them, presenting you with an opportunity to use the funds before calculations affect your benefits.


Until 2006, SSI benefits were paid in one lump sum payment. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 provided for installments in SSI benefits to help reduce the federal deficit. This act also made changes to other assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and children’s health insurance programs.