FAQ: SSI vs. SSDI — What’s the Difference?

Both SSI and SSDI offer cash benefits for persons with disabilities. Both programs are overseen and managed by the Social Security Administration. Medical eligibility for disability is determined in the same manner for both programs. However the eligibility requirements are quite different.

The most significant difference between Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the fact that SSDI is only available to workers who have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits, while SSI benefits are available to low-income individuals who have either never worked or who haven’t earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income is a program that is needs-based, for disabled persons with very low income and almost no assets. SSI is funded by general fund taxes (not from the Social Security trust fund). SSI is called a “means-tested program,” meaning it has nothing to do with work history, but strictly with financial need. The maximum benefit paid by SSI in 2018 is $750 per month for individuals and $1,125 for couples (this increases annually if there is a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment).

Many disabled clients and family members of disabled clients don’t know if they’re receiving SSI or SSDI; all they know is they get a check from Social Security. A good way to determine is to ask them the amount of the check. If it’s an individual and he or she is receiving $750 per month, it’s a pretty safe bet that person is on SSI.

To meet the SSI income requirements, a disabled person must have less than $2,000 in assets (or $3,000 for a married couple) and a very limited income. In many states, a person with a disability who is eligible under the income requirements for SSI is also able to receive Medicaid. Most people who qualify for SSI will also qualify for food stamps, and the amount an eligible person will receive is dependent on where they live and the amount of regular, monthly income they have.

What is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance is funded through payroll taxes. SSDI recipients are considered “insured” because they have earned at least 40 “credits” by working for at least 40 “quarters” and making contributions to the Social Security trust fund in the form of FICA Social Security taxes.

Only persons who become disabled before age 65 can obtain SSDI.

After receiving SSDI for two years, a disabled person will become eligible for Medicare.

Under SSDI, the person who is disabled and his or her spouse and children dependents are eligible to receive partial dependent benefits, called auxiliary benefits. However, only adults over the age of 18 can receive the SSDI disability benefit.

There is a five-month waiting period for benefits, meaning that the SSA won’t pay an applicant benefits for the first five months after becoming disabled.

The amount of the monthly benefit after the waiting period is over depends on the applicant’s earnings record, much like the Social Security retirement benefit, so the monthly SSDI benefit is typically significantly larger than the monthly SSI benefit.