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What is the difference between SSI and SSDI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are federal programs administered by the Social Security Administration. Each program provides assistance to individuals with disabilities.

Tens of millions of people in the U.S.—more than one quarter—are considered to have one or more disabilities at any given time. Almost 20% of Americans live with severe disabilities and rely on public benefit programs to provide for their basic needs.

One way to classify government benefit programs is to characterize them as “means tested” or “non-means tested.” Means tested programs are those for which a person’s means—income and assets—are “tested’ to determine whether the person qualifies for the benefit they’re seeking. For example, if a program caps the income at a certain level or places a maximum value on the assets a person can have, the test is comparing the income and assets to the caps. If income and assets are under the maximums allowed, the person may qualify, and if over, the person doesn’t qualify to receive the benefit.

People often confuse SSI and SSDI, and it’s easy to see why. The acronyms are similar. They are both administered by the same federal agency. And they both provide cash assistance to people with disabilities.

SSI is a means tested public benefit. To qualify, a person’s income must be below a certain threshold per month—currently $794 if unmarried—and their countable resources (assets) cannot be above $2,000. Not all assets are counted against this resource limit. Income includes earned and unearned income as well as food or housing that is provided by someone else. In addition to the means tests, there are citizenship and residency requirements, and to qualify, a person must be blind, disabled, or over the age of 65. If eligible, the maximum monthly benefit received is currently $794. In Texas, those who receive just $1 of SSI also qualify for Medicaid benefits.

SSDI is not a means tested public benefit. To qualify for this insurance benefit, a person must have worked long enough and become disabled before reaching age 65. The work requirement is based on a credit system, where four credits can be earned each year. In 2021, a person receives one credit for each $1,470 in earnings. The income level needed to earn one credit increases every year. Generally, a person satisfies the work history requirement with significant employment under the Social Security system for the 10 years preceding the disability and if the person had this employment for at least 20 of the last 40 preceding quarters. The monthly cash benefit received is determined by a complex formula based on the person’s contribution into the Social Security system. After receiving 24 months of SSDI payments, a person is eligible for Medicare. When a recipient reaches full retirement age, the SSDI benefit automatically converts to regular Social Security retirement.

The Social Security Administration applies the same definition of “disability” in both programs. To be considered disabled, an individual must be unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of 12 months or more or that can be expected to result in death. A person under age 18 is considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that results in severe functional limitations.

Both programs may require the assistance of an attorney who specializes in one or both of these areas.

You may visit our website at www.wrightabshire.com. Nothing contained in this publication should be considered as the rendering of legal advice to any person’s specific case but should be considered general information.