We get a lot of calls about social security laws and benefits so we thought it would make sense to provide some information.

The differences between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income

If you’ve suffered a severe injury or are suffering from an illness or disability that is keeping you from being able to work and earn a living, you may want to consider help. But, where does one start?
Thankfully, The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees and manages two disability benefits programs to those suffering from disabilities who are unable to work or unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). The SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are two different and separate governmental programs. With similar initials and only one letter away from similarity, it’s easy to confuse the two.

We’re going to jump in at the individual differences and requirements of each benefit program, but first, let’s quickly look at the few similarities between SSDI and SSI. Again, both SSDI and SSI are disability programs set by the SSA. To be eligible, they both evaluate the severity of your medical condition using the same criteria to show that your disability is enough that you are unable to work. A person cannot be earning or have the capacity to earn above the set substantial gainful activity (SGA) level (differs by program and state). Lastly, they provide monthly cash benefits and provide access to health care benefits, but are distributed differently.

The most notable difference between the SSDI and SSI is how benefit eligibility is determined. Specifically, SSI is based on need whereas SSDI is based on work records. Aside from this major difference, each program has its own qualifications and application procedures.

Social Security Disability Insurance

SSDI is a taxpayer-funded program for those with a either physical or psychological disability as well as blind persons. This cash payment is paid out early from the Social Security trust fund and is available to those who are ‘insured’ or have worked, and paid FICA taxes, for a required number of years.

The SSA does have a list of impairments that automatically qualify for SSDI benefits and should be an easy approval if one is able to show documents on the impairment, how and why they suffer.
Otherwise, it is not easy to obtain SSDI benefit as the rules, regulations, and guidelines can be rigid and overwhelming to applicants. However, the applications process is easier and the approval rates for SSDI are higher on average than they are for SSI. SSDI is based on work records, so benefits can vary dramatically.

There are two main qualifications the SSA look at: documentation of the disability and the evaluation of ones work history. Once deemed disabled, SSA will look at the recent and total duration of ones work history to determine their average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). Depending on the age one becomes disabled will depend on the amount of history records needed to qualify. Payment will then be based on the individual’s average covered earnings over this period.

There are times when a disabled individual is still able to work. Federal law states that any individual earning in excess of $1,000/month are able to meet the “substantial gainful activity” and, by definition, are not disable. The earned income for the blind is slightly higher.

Once approved, there is a five-month waiting period for benefits pay out. SSDI beneficiaries are also eligible to receive Medicare two years after deemed eligible for SSDI benefits. The amount of your monthly disability benefits will be based on your Social Security income record. Lastly, under SSDI, spouses and dependents, under the age of 18, are eligible to receive partial benefits.

Social Security Income

The SSI program is a need-base welfare cash benefit to low-income individuals over 64, blind, or disabled who have limited income and resources. This program is called a “means-tested program” and has nothing to do with one’s work history, as is completely a financial need. The fund does not come from Social Security Trust Fund as SSDI does, but by The Federal Government from general tax revenues.

SSI is not only qualified on the bases of income, but also based on ones resources. If an individual’s personal possessions were worth more than $2,000 (individual) or $3,000 (couple), they would be considered ineligible. (SSDI has no asset limits to personal property).

To be entitled to SSI benefits, an individual must be a U.S. citizen that can provide medical evidence that a disability will last for at least a year. If working, the total countable income should also be below listed Supplemental Security Income levels. This amount differs from state to state and can be pretty complicated.

Unlike SSDI, SSI has no waiting period for benefits and will start payout the same month as applied. Because the program is solely based on need, SSI pays out a standard benefit, Federal Benefit Rate or FBR, for everyone and then subtracts any countable income. In Illinois for 2018, an individual can receive up to $750 a month in federal SSI payments. In most cases, a person qualified for SSI immediately qualifies for Medicaid benefits. However, with SSI, there is no dependent coverage.

Clearly, SSDI and SSI benefits can be confusing and strict. Understanding the qualifications process will best be done by speaking to an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. If you’d like a referral please call us at 312-346-5320 any time.