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What Is the Difference Between SSI and Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Administration has two programs that pay disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income, commonly referred to as SSI, and Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. They may sound similar to each other, but there are distinct differences you should know to get the most out of the program that is the right fit for you and your needs.

Disability Benefits Through SSI

SSI is a needs-based program for adults and children with disabilities or blindness preventing them from working. SSI benefits are also available to non-blind or disabled adults aged 65 and older who meet financial requirements. The monthly benefit payment from SSI is meant to help people with limited income and resources to afford food and shelter.

SSI has limits on the income and resources a person may have and qualify for benefits. For instance, an individual cannot have monthly earnings from working that exceed $1,971 in 2024 and qualify for disability benefits through the program.

Sources of unearned income also determine a person’s eligibility for SSI. Unearned income includes the value of food or shelter a person receives from friends and relatives, so a free room in someone’s home is in-kind income that may disqualify an applicant.

Resources, such as a home, car, and other assets that an individual owns, may disqualify them from SSI eligibility. The maximum value of resources is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples when both are eligible for SSI.

It’s important to know that not all resources count toward the limits. For instance, the value of a car you or someone in your household drives for personal use may not count as a resource. The value of a home you own and use as your principal residence does not count, but it will count if you own and do not live in it.

The monthly federal SSI benefit in 2024 is $943 for individuals and $1,415 for couples when both are eligible for benefits. Your benefits may be greater if you live in a state that supplements the federal benefit with a payment from the state.

Disability Benefits Through SSDI

The first difference you’ll notice about the programs is the requirement of a work record to qualify for SSDI. A person must have worked long enough and paid into the Social Security retirement system through their payroll or self-employment taxes to be eligible to apply for disability benefits through SSDI.

SSDI is not a needs-based program, so no income or resource limitations apply. You must be “insured,” meaning you paid Social Security taxes on the money you earned while working.

A difference exists in the benefit payments. SSDI benefits are computed using a person’s lifetime earnings. The more you earn and pay Social Security taxes, the more you receive through SSDI. However, there is a maximum SSDI benefit of $3,822 per month in 2024, but the average monthly payment is only $1,537.

Health insurance benefits are another difference between SSI and SSDI. Medicaid can cover SSI recipients if they meet their state’s eligibility requirements. SSDI beneficiaries qualify for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period.

Definition Of Disability to Qualify for Benefits

The definition used to determine if an applicant is disabled and eligible for benefits is the same for each program. Applicants for SSDI and adults applying for SSI must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment preventing them from doing substantial gainful activity. The impairment must be expected to last for at least 12 continuous months or be expected to cause the person’s death.

Proving that you are disabled and qualify for disability benefits is not an easy task. Of the applications submitted annually for disability benefits, more than two-thirds of them are denied.

A disability lawyer can be your best source of advice and skilled representation. Whether you want to file an initial application for disability benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, or increase disability payments you already receive, a free consultation with a disability lawyer is how to start.


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