It is easy to confuse Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), since their names are similar and the Social Security Administration (SSA) runs both programs. If you are considering applying for benefits, you might be asking yourself, What is the difference between SSDI and SSI? SSDI and SSI have different eligibility requirements. You might qualify for one program but not the other, or you might qualify for both.
What is SSDI?
SSDI pays monthly cash benefits to disabled or legally blind individuals, who meet the SSA’s standards for disability and the “work credits” requirements for the program. If you get SSDI, you also receive Medicare coverage. Your state adds no supplement to your SSDI benefit. The SSA calculates your monthly check, based on your lifetime earnings. Your dependents can receive SSDI benefits, if you qualify.
What is SSI?
SSI pays monthly cash benefits to low-income disabled, blind, and elderly people with few assets. If you get an SSI check, you also receive Medicaid coverage. Most states add a state supplement, meaning they give SSI recipients cash in addition to the amount the SSA pays them. The SSA determines your monthly check by starting with the Federal Benefit Rate, which is a standard amount, then subtracting your countable income, and then adding your state supplement. The SSA does not pay dependent SSI benefits.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for SSDI?
People with physical or mental impairments that prevent them from working, might be eligible for SSDI benefits. Qualifying for SSDI is a three-part process. You must:
- Have a severe medical or mental condition that meets the SSA’s standards for disability, and
- Cannot do any kind of work for at least 12 months, and
- Have worked long enough at a job that paid into the Social Security system, to have enough work credits for your age.
SSDI benefits have an income limit. You are not eligible for SSDI benefits, no matter how severe your medical or mental condition, if you earn more than $1180 (for non-blind individuals) or $1970 (for blind persons) per month in 2018.
You earn work credits for every three-month block (quarter) that your employer deducts money from your paycheck for Social Security. The older you are, the more work credits the SSA requires, since you have had more time to accumulate the credits than a younger person.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for SSI?
Congress designed SSI benefits as a safety net for people who are disabled, aged, or blind, but do not meet the requirements for SSDI benefits. SSI does not require work credits. You must have very little income and countable assets of only $2000 for an individual or $3000 for a couple.
Can You Get Both SSDI and SSI?
You may get both SSDI and SSI benefits, if you meet the requirements for both programs. You must meet the disability standards, have enough work credits for your age, cannot work for at least a year, and have very little income and few countable assets to qualify for both programs.
Your state might provide different benefits than the general rules discussed in the article. Talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
Social Security Administration. “Overview of our disability programs.” (accessed April 19, 2018) https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/eng/overview-disability.htm
Social Security Administration. “Understanding Supplemental Security Income SSI Eligibility Requirements – 2018 Edition.” (accessed April 19, 2018) https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-eligibility-ussi.htm
Social Security Administration. “DI 10501.015 Tables of SGA Earnings Guidelines and Effective Dates Based on Year of Work Activity.” (accessed April 19, 2018) https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0410501015