Differences between Supplemental Security Income SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance SSDI

Written By: William Rivers
Reviewed By: William Rivers
Published: May 6, 2023
Last updated: August 12, 2023

In this article, readers will understand the distinctions between Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs administered by the Social Security Administration in the United States. The article explores the criteria for eligibility, the application process, financial and medical benefits, work incentives, and additional assistance programs available to recipients. 

This article comprehensively overviews each program, their respective qualifications, and benefits. This will demystify the process for potential applicants and their families.

Overview of SSI and SSDI

Definition of SSI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal income assistance program in the United States designed to provide financial support to individuals with limited income and resources who are older adults, blind, or disabled. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) but financed through general tax revenues rather than Social Security taxes. SSI benefits cover an individual's basic needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter.

A combination of age or disability requirements, low income, and limited resources determine SSI eligibility. Generally, individuals must be at least 65, blind, or disabled to qualify for SSI benefits. Additionally, an applicant's income must fall below a specified level, and their total resources, including cash, real estate, and personal property, must not exceed a certain amount.

Definition of SSDI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal insurance program that benefits people who cannot work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. SSDI is also managed by the Social Security Administration but funded through payroll taxes collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).

SSDI benefits are eligible based on an individual's disability, work history, and Social Security contributions. An applicant must have a medical condition that meets the SSA's definition of disability and must have worked long enough and recently enough to have paid sufficient Social Security taxes. Generally, an individual must have earned a certain number of work credits through their job before becoming disabled to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Primary Purposes of Each Program

SSI and SSDI are designed to provide financial support to individuals unable to work and maintain a basic standard of living. However, the two programs serve distinct populations and have different eligibility criteria and benefit structures.

The primary purpose of SSI is to provide financial assistance to individuals with limited income and resources due to age, blindness, or disability. This program is specifically designed to help those who may not have had the opportunity to work and pay into the Social Security system or who have a limited work history. SSI benefits cover an individual's basic needs and contribute to their well-being.

On the other hand, SSDI is focused on providing income support to individuals who have become disabled after having worked and paid into the Social Security system. SSDI aims to offer protection and financial support for workers who have contributed to the system and find themselves unable to continue working due to a further disability. SSDI benefits can provide a safety net for disabled workers and help maintain a reasonable standard of living.

In summary, SSI and SSDI are both federal programs that provide financial assistance to individuals who cannot work due to age or disability. While SSI is focused on providing basic financial support to those with limited income and resources, SSDI is designed to provide income replacement for disabled workers who have paid into the Social Security system through their employment history. Both programs are essential in promoting the well-being and financial security of eligible individuals in the United States.

Eligibility Criteria

When applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), each program has its own eligibility criteria. Understanding the differences in eligibility requirements for SSDI and SSI ensures that you apply for the appropriate program.

Age Requirement Differences

SSDI and SSI age requirements vary, and it's essential to know the age limits for each program. SSDI is designed to benefit disabled workers, typically those who worked and paid Social Security taxes before becoming disabled. SSDI applicants' age requirement is not fixed. However, benefiting from SSDI generally requires a person to be younger than the full retirement age. This ranges from 65 to 67, depending on their birth year. Once you reach full retirement age, SSDI benefits may convert to retirement benefits.

On the other hand, SSI age requirements are more lenient. SSI is a needs-based program that assists disabled, blind, or elderly individuals with limited income and resources. While disabled adults can apply for SSI without age restrictions, non-disabled adults must be at least 65 to qualify for SSI based on age.

Disability Qualifications

SSDI and SSI require meeting the Social Security Administration's (SSA) definition of disability. The SSA considers an individual disabled if they have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that:

  • Has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 continuous months, or
  • It is expected to result in death.

Additionally, the impairment must prevent the person from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) – work that brings in a certain amount of income. As of 2021, the SGA limit is $1,310 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,190 per month for blind individuals.

Work Credit Requirements for SSDI

To be eligible for SSDI, you must have earned sufficient work credits. The SSA calculates work credits based on your yearly earnings, with a maximum of four work credits available yearly. The amount needed to earn one work credit increases slightly each year due to inflation. As of 2021, one work credit is $1,470.

The number of work credits required to qualify for SSDI depends on your age when you became disabled. Applicants need 40 work credits, 20 earned in the ten years immediately preceding the disability. However, younger applicants may qualify with fewer credits.

Income and Resource Limits for SSI

SSI, being a needs-based program, has specific income and resource limits set by the SSA. To be eligible for SSI, an individual's income must be below certain limits. The income includes unearned income (e.g., pensions or Social Security benefits), earned income (e.g., wages or self-employment), and in-kind income (e.g., food or shelter provided by someone else).

As of 2021, the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) for SSI is $794 monthly for an individual and $1,191 for a couple. However, not all income is counted when determining your eligibility; some deductions may apply. You must report all your income sources and accurate information to the SSA.

In addition to income limits, SSI applicants must also meet resource limits. The resource limits are $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Resources include cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, vehicles, and other assets that could be used to cover basic living expenses. Certain resources, such as a primary residence, a vehicle, and specific life insurance policies, are not counted towards the SSI resource limit.

Application Process

Initial Application Steps

The first step towards applying for disability benefits is to determine your eligibility. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program for those with a substantial work history or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for those with limited income and resources.

To determine eligibility for either program, use the SSA's online benefits eligibility screening tool or talk to a disability attorney. If you are eligible, you can apply for these benefits:

  1. Online - Visit the SSA website and complete an online application form.
  2. Phone - Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and apply via phone. They will guide you through the application process.
  3. In-Person - Visit your local Social Security office to obtain proper guidance and assistance in completing the application process.

Ensure you provide accurate and complete information, such as your previous work experience, medical records, and contact information for doctors and therapists.

Required Documentation

When applying for disability benefits, gathering all the necessary documentation beforehand is essential. The SSA will need you to provide the following information and documents:

  1. Birth certificate or proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  2. Social Security number
  3. Employment records, including W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns for the last year
  4. Medical records, such as doctor and therapist notes, lab results, and medical test reports related to your disability
  5. Medications list, detailing all prescription and over-the-counter medications you take, including dosages
  6. Information about workers' compensation claims, settlements, or benefits received
  7. Contact information for healthcare providers and hospitals where you received treatment
  8. List of previous jobs held (past 15 years) and a description of your work duties

Keeping track of all documentation and making copies for your records is essential. Being well-organized with the necessary documents can significantly impact your application's success.

Medical Evaluation Process

The medical evaluation process is a critical aspect of your disability application, as it determines whether your condition meets the SSA's criteria for disability. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Review of Medical Records: The SSA will review the medical records you provide to determine the severity of your condition and its duration.
  2. Consultative Examinations (CE): If there is insufficient information in your medical records, the SSA might request additional tests, examinations, or medical opinions. You may be scheduled for CE with a healthcare provider determined by the SSA.
  3. Disability Determination: After all necessary examinations and reviews are completed, your case will be forwarded to a disability specialist (DS) to determine your eligibility based on your medical records, the severity of your disability, and your ability to perform work tasks.

Keep in mind that the medical evaluation process could take several months. It is crucial to cooperate with the SSA and provide all requested information promptly.

Appealing a Denied Application

If your initial application is denied, don't lose hope. You can appeal against the decision. There are four levels of appeal:

  1. Reconsideration: You can request a review of your application with updated or additional medical evidence, which should be submitted within 60 days of receiving the denial notice.
  2. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing: If reconsideration is unsuccessful, you can request a hearing before an ALJ, who will review your case and decide based on the provided evidence.
  3. Appeals Council Review: If you are dissatisfied with the ALJ's decision, you can request a review from the SSA's Appeals Council. They might grant, deny, or dismiss your request.
  4. Federal Court Review: If all other appeals fail, you can file a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court.

It is highly recommended to seek legal assistance from a disability attorney during appeals to increase your chances of success. Remember to keep all documentation and evidence organized to ensure a smooth process.

Financial Benefits

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two major programs that provide financial assistance to Americans who are disabled and unable to work. Understanding the different financial benefits associated with each program is crucial for determining eligibility and financial planning.

SSI Benefit Calculation

SSI provides financial assistance to disabled, blind, or aged individuals (65 years and older) with limited income and resources. Based on the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR), the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines the amount of monthly SSI payments. As of 2022, the FBR is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple. However, these amounts may change each year due to cost-of-living adjustments.

To calculate your potential SSI benefit, the SSA considers your countable income, including in-kind income. The agency subtracts the total monthly countable income from the FBR to determine the SSI benefit amount. Therefore, the more countable income you receive, the lower your SSI benefit will be.

It is essential to remember that not all of your income is countable. For example, the first $20 of most monthly income and the first $65 of earned income generally aren't included when calculating your countable income. Additionally, some types of income, like food stamps or home energy assistance, are excluded entirely.

SSDI Benefit Calculation

Unlike SSI, which is based on financial need, SSDI is an insurance program for workers who become disabled before retirement age. SSDI eligibility is determined by work history and disability. SSDI benefits are based on your average lifetime earnings before disability.

To calculate your SSDI benefit, the SSA uses a weighted formula that considers your earnings history. This is typically done based on the highest 35 years of earnings. This calculation results in your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). The AIME is used in the primary insurance amount (PIA) formula, which determines the monthly benefit you will receive.

The specifics of the calculation can be complicated, but you can get a rough estimate of your SSDI benefit using the SSA's Social Security Benefit Calculators. Remember that these calculators provide only an estimate, and the actual benefit amount you will receive may differ.

Effect of Other Income on Benefits

Both SSI and SSDI benefits can be affected by other income sources you might receive. For SSI, any income you receive from other sources, such as wages or other government benefits, will reduce your SSI payment. For SSDI, certain types of income, like workers' compensation or public disability benefits, may also reduce your SSDI payment.

However, some income sources might not affect your benefits. For example, private insurance benefits or Veterans Administration benefits typically don't impact your SSDI benefits. Additionally, investment income, interest, or dividends from savings generally do not reduce SSI or SSDI benefits.

Adjustments to Benefit Amounts

Your SSI and SSDI benefit amounts may be adjusted for various reasons. Cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) occur annually based on Consumer Price Index fluctuations. These adjustments ensure that benefits keep up with inflation rates, helping recipients maintain their purchasing power.

In addition, if your living situation changes, your SSI benefit amount may be affected. For instance, if you move in with someone who provides free food and shelter, your SSI benefit could be reduced by up to one-third of the FBR.

SSDI recipients may be adjusted to the benefit amount. In general, you can work while receiving SSDI as long as your earnings are below the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold, adjusted yearly. If your earnings exceed the SGA limit, your SSDI benefits may be reduced or stopped entirely.

In conclusion, understanding the financial benefits of SSI and SSDI, including how they are calculated and how other income affects the benefit amounts, helps individuals with disabilities make better financial planning decisions and prepares them for any changes in their future.

Medical Coverage

Medical coverage is a crucial aspect of social support for individuals with disabilities, as it can ensure access to healthcare services and reduce financial strain. In the United States, two primary programs offer medical coverage for individuals with disabilities: Medicaid, which is associated with Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare, which is associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This article will discuss the eligibility requirements for SSI and SSDI recipients and compare the medical benefits provided by these programs.

Medicaid Eligibility for SSI Recipients

Medicaid is a federally and state-funded program that provides health coverage for low-income individuals, including those with disabilities. Medicaid eligibility requires specific income and resource requirements. In addition, they must be residents of the state where they apply for benefits.

For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, Medicaid eligibility is often automatically granted. While the specific process and criteria may vary depending on the state, individuals approved for SSI will also be automatically enrolled in their Medicaid program. This means SSI recipients will not have to undergo a separate Medicaid application process.

It is important to note that some states have additional Medicaid programs with more lenient income and resource requirements than SSI. These programs, called Medicaid Waivers, may provide coverage for individuals with disabilities who do not qualify for SSI but still require assistance to manage their healthcare expenses. The application process and eligibility criteria for Medicaid Waiver programs vary depending on the state, so it is essential to research your state's specific requirements if you do not qualify for SSI but believe you may be eligible for Medicaid.

Medicare Eligibility for SSDI Recipients

Medicare is a federally-funded health insurance program for individuals 65 and older. It also covers certain disabilities, especially those receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. To be eligible for Medicare as an SSDI recipient, one must have received SSDI benefits for at least 24 months.

Upon reaching the 25th month of SSDI benefits, the individual will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). Individuals wishing to have additional coverage, such as prescription drug coverage, may enroll in Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage Plan, which often includes prescription drugs and additional medical benefits. These additional programs may require separate enrollment and premium payments.

Comparison of Medical Benefits

While both Medicaid and Medicare provide health coverage for individuals with disabilities, there are differences in the services and benefits provided to recipients.

  1. Scope of Coverage: Medicaid often provides more comprehensive coverage than Medicare, particularly for low-income people. Medicaid covers many services, including hospital care, doctor visits, prescription drugs, long-term care, and behavioral health services. In contrast, Medicare focuses primarily on hospital and medical insurance, with additional coverage options available at an extra cost.
  2. Cost Sharing: Medicaid is typically more affordable for recipients than Medicare, as it usually requires little to no out-of-pocket expenses, depending on the state. Medicare often requires recipients to pay premiums, deductibles, and co-payments, which can be more costly. However, some individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid may receive additional assistance to cover these costs.
  3. Availability of Services: Medicaid is a state-based program, meaning that the availability of services and provider networks may vary depending on where you live. Medicare is a federal program that can result in more uniform benefits and access to providers nationwide.
  4. Long-Term Care Benefits: One significant difference between Medicaid and Medicare is their coverage of long-term care services. Medicaid often provides more extensive long-term care coverage, including nursing home care and home and community-based services. Medicare generally provides limited long-term care coverage, primarily short-term stays in skilled nursing facilities and some home health services.

Both Medicaid and Medicare provide essential healthcare coverage for individuals with disabilities in the United States. While Medicaid offers more comprehensive benefits for SSI recipients and those with low incomes, Medicare may provide more consistent access to providers and services for SSDI recipients. Researching and understanding the specific eligibility requirements and benefits of each program is crucial to making informed decisions about your healthcare coverage options.

Work Incentives and Support

The purpose of work incentives and support programs is to help transition individuals with disabilities into the workforce while maximizing their income and minimizing the risk of losing essential benefits. Social Security Administration (SSA) offers several work incentives to help individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) to re-enter the workforce. Disabled individuals must understand these work incentives and support systems to avoid discontinuing critical medical and financial benefits. In this section, we will discuss SSI and SSDI work incentives, employment effects on benefits, and vocational rehabilitation services.

SSI Work Incentives

SSI work incentives are designed to support and encourage eligible individuals who want to return to the workforce without jeopardizing their eligibility to receive supplemental benefits. Some key SSI work incentives include:

  1. Earned Income Exclusion: SSI recipients are eligible for the Earned Income Exclusion, which allows them to exclude the first $65 of earned income per month or one-half of the remaining earned income after the $65 deduction. This incentive enables individuals to retain more monthly SSI benefits as their earnings increase.
  2. Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE): SSI beneficiaries with work-related expenses due to their disability can deduct these costs from their countable income when determining the SSI benefit amount. Examples of such expenses include medications, medical devices, and service animals.
  3. Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS): PASS allows SSI recipients to set aside income and resources to fulfill a specific employment goal, such as starting a business or obtaining job training. The income and resources under a PASS plan do not count when determining the SSI benefit amount.
  4. Extended Medicaid Coverage: Section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act allows eligible SSI recipients to maintain their Medicaid coverage even if their earnings discontinue their SSI cash benefits.

SSDI Work Incentives

SSDI work incentives are designed to help beneficiaries transition into the workforce while protecting their disability benefits. Some key SSDI work incentives include:

  1. Trial Work Period (TWP): The TWP allows beneficiaries to test their ability to work and earn income while continuing to receive SSDI benefits. The TWP consists of nine months within a rolling 60-month period.
  2. Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE): After the completion of the TWP, SSDI beneficiaries enter the EPE, which lasts for 36 months. During this period, beneficiaries can continue to receive SSDI benefits for any month in which their earnings fall below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.
  3. Expedited Reinstatement (EXR): If SSDI benefits are terminated due to the individual's earnings exceeding the SGA level, they can request their benefits reinstated without filing a new application within five years, as long as their medical condition has not improved.

Effect of Employment on Benefits

Employment can affect an individual's SSI and SSDI benefits, but the impact varies depending on the individual's earnings and the program guidelines. However, the SSA has implemented work incentives to minimize adverse effects on benefits while encouraging recipients to pursue employment. Using these work incentives, SSI and SSDI beneficiaries can test their capacity to work without jeopardizing their benefits.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining employment. VR agencies provide assessment, counseling, job training, assistive technology, and job placement assistance. The SSA may refer SSI or SSDI beneficiaries to VR services, and some beneficiaries can choose VR services as part of their work incentives plan. Participation in vocational rehabilitation services can also help protect benefits and transition into the workforce.

Additional Benefits and Assistance Programs

In addition to standard unemployment benefits, numerous additional programs and assistance are available to help people in need. These programs aim to alleviate the financial burden individuals and families face during difficult times. They provide resources and support for food, nutrition, housing, and utility expenses. This article will outline several key benefits and assistance programs that can provide essential support during times of need.

Food and Nutrition Assistance

Food and nutrition assistance programs provide individuals and families in need with access to healthy food options. These programs ensure that no one goes hungry and everyone has the opportunity to maintain good health and well-being.

Some of the most well-known food and nutrition assistance programs include:

  • The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides free or reduced-price lunches to children from low-income families. Participating schools receive subsidies from the federal government to help cover the costs of these lunches.
  • The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program offers supplemental foods, nutrition education, and healthcare referrals for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk.
  • Food banks and food pantries provide free groceries and food items to needy people. Food banks typically supply food to pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency food providers, while food pantries distribute food directly to individuals and families in need.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, provides financial assistance to eligible individuals and families to help them purchase food. SNAP recipients receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which functions like a debit card and can be used to purchase groceries at authorized retailers.

Several factors, including household income, resources, and size determine SNAP eligibility. To qualify, applicants must generally have a gross income below 130% of the federal poverty level and a net income below 100% after deductions. Each state has different guidelines and application procedures, but the program is designed to assist low-income households in meeting their nutritional needs.

Housing Assistance

Housing assistance programs help low-income people meet their housing needs by providing affordable rental or homeownership options. Some of the most common housing assistance programs include:

  • Public Housing: Public housing is government-owned rental housing available to low-income households meeting certain eligibility criteria. Rents are typically based on a percentage of household income, making it more affordable for those in need.
  • Section 8: Also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8 provides rental assistance to low-income families, older people, and disabled individuals. Eligible participants can choose from privately owned housing and receive vouchers to cover a portion of their rent. This allows for more choice and affordability.
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides financial assistance to eligible low-income households to pay for heating and cooling expenses. The program also offers energy crisis assistance, energy-related home repairs, and weatherization services to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy costs.

Energy and Utility Assistance

Energy and utility assistance programs aim to help low-income households manage and reduce essential utilities, such as electricity, gas, and water. These programs provide financial assistance to eligible households to cover utility bills, make necessary repairs, or improve energy efficiency.

Some of the most well-known energy and utility assistance programs include:

  • The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): LIHEAP helps low-income households pay for heating and cooling expenses and offers resources for maintaining safe and healthy living conditions. Assistance may be provided through direct payments to utility companies, help with energy-related emergencies, and even energy efficiency improvements.
  • Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP): WAP helps low-income households by providing free energy efficiency improvements, such as insulation, air sealing, and heating system upgrades. These improvements can reduce energy bills, increase comfort, and create a healthier living environment.
  • Lifeline and Link-Up: These programs provide discounted or free telephone services to eligible low-income families. The Lifeline program offers monthly discounts on phone service, while the Link-Up program offers discounts on initial installation or activation fees for new subscribers.

By participating in these additional benefits and assistance programs, individuals and families in need can receive essential support and resources to help them through tough times. These programs extend far beyond unemployment benefits, providing the necessary aid to maintain a high quality of life. They also meet basic food, nutrition, housing, and utility needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the primary differences between SSI and SSDI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides financial support for elderly, blind, or disabled individuals with limited income and resources. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) offers benefits to disabled individuals as well, but eligibility is determined by the applicant's work history and payment of Social Security taxes.

2. Is medical eligibility different between SSI and SSDI?

No, the medical eligibility criteria for both SSI and SSDI are the same. Applicants must have a physical or mental condition that prevents them from engaging in gainful activity, and the condition must last, or be expected to last, at least 12 months or result in death.

3. Can a person receive both SSI and SSDI benefits simultaneously?

Individuals can receive both SSI and SSDI benefits simultaneously, known as concurrent benefits. Eligibility for this depends on meeting the criteria for both programs, having low income, limited resources, and qualifying for SSDI benefits based on work history.

4. How is the benefit amount determined for SSI and SSDI?

SSI benefit amounts are determined by an individual's countable income and living situation. SSDI benefit amounts are based on the applicant's lifetime average earnings covered under Social Security and can vary depending on the individual's work history and earnings.

5. Are SSI and SSDI benefits subject to income tax?

SSI benefits are not subject to federal income tax. However, SSDI benefits may be taxable depending on the individual's income level. If combined with other sources of income, a portion of SSDI benefits may be considered taxable income.

Was this article helpful?
William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.
After years of living under the care of your parents and other family members, the time will arrive for you to reciprocate. At Senior Strong, you can show your loved ones just how much you value them.
642 W 28th St, Los Angeles, CA 90007
(213) 877-8342
Senior Strong © Copyright 2024, All Rights Reserved