Social Security -- Disability Law

SSDI vs. SSI: Difference between Social Security Disability Insurance & Supplemental Security Income

Social Security is often talked about, but also misunderstood. There are two key disability benefits available which can appear to do similar things and, because both are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), they often seem indistinguishable. As a result, many people are confused about the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Both SSDI and SSI are intended to protect workers who are unable to work because of a physical or mental disability. To receive either, a person must be found to have a severe medical condition that significantly limits their ability to do basic work activities – such as sitting, standing, seeing or remembering things. The condition must be expected to continue for at least one year or to result in death.

Despite basic similarities, it is important to understand the differences between the systems and who is eligible for either.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), often referred to simply as “Social Security”, is funded by an individual’s contributions through payroll taxes. It covers workers who have paid into the system for a minimum length of time, and the benefits they receive are based on what they have earned while they worked. The higher a person’s wages were while working, the higher their benefits could be.

Benefits might be reduced if a person also receives other payments, such as Workers’ Compensation benefits. Payments are usually also adjusted each year to account for changes in the cost of living.

Eligibility for SSDI

Eligibility for SSDI includes meeting a number of requirements, including:

  • A person must have made contributions as part of their payroll taxes (or their parents or spouse must have made contributions)
  • They must have made these contributions for a minimum number of quarters (known as Social Security credits or “quarters of coverage”), which varies based on their age

Once an application for Social Security is approved, benefits will start on the sixth full month after the disability began. Recipients will also automatically receive Medicare coverage after two years of receiving disability benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is based purely on an applicant’s financial need and not on how much they have worked. To receive SSI, you must have limited income and assets, and benefit payments are limited to federally-set maximum amounts.

SSI claim requirements

Some of the key eligibility requirements to receive SSI include:

  • Income and assets (such as property or insurance) must be under specific, limited thresholds (currently, $2,000 for individuals, and $3,000 for married couples)
  • You must live in the United States or Northern Mariana Islands, and be a US citizen or national

Some assets will not be counted when working out SSI eligibility, including the house you live in, a single vehicle, and household goods.

In most states, recipients of SSI will receive Medicaid, and some states also pay supplemental payments and provide food assistance.

Can you receive both Social Security and SSI?

It is possible to receive both Social Security and SSDI. To do so, a person must meet the eligibility requirements for both – in particular, they need to have paid into the SSDI system for long enough, as well as have limited income and assets. A person’s SSDI benefit must be under the income limit needed to receive SSI. It is advisable to speak to an experienced disability benefits attorney in this situation to receive advice on what you might be able to claim.

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