Both SSI and SSDI are types of benefits for disabled US citizens, but some main differences determine your eligibility for each. Learn about SSI vs SSDI here.

If you’re an American struggling with a disability, you might be looking to the US government for some financial assistance. If you’ve done any research you run across an alphabet soup of letters for possible programs.

SSI vs SSDI? How are these disability programs different? What qualifications must you meet to get aid from them? Can you qualify for both at the same time?

While the programs can overlap slightly and the letters sound remarkably the same, they are different. They also have different qualifiers.

Read on to learn about SSI, SSDI, and the differences between these two programs.

What Is SSI?

Let’s start by understanding the components of each of the programs. So, what is SSI? SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income.

It is called a means-tested program. Mean-tested refers to the fact that to qualify for SSI you must show you have the financial need or are lacking the means to care for yourself solely.

Unlike any social security based program, qualifying for SSI is based solely on need and not on any work history.

Again, while the letters are similar to social security, the SSI program is not funded through the Social Security Administration. SSI payments instead come from the Treasury Department and paid from the general tax fund.

There are a few other features of SSI to be aware of. When a person qualifies for SSI because of low income, in nearly every case, they will also qualify for Medicaid in their state. This will provide medical coverage in addition to the monthly supplement.

In many states, people will also qualify for food stamps from their state when they qualify for the federally funded SSI program.

What Is SSDI?

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. Again, while it sounds similar to SSI, the program has some key differences. This program actually acts as an insurance program.

As a worker in the US, you pay FICA Social Security taxes. When you are employed and paying taxes, both you and your employer pay a 7.65% tax for social security and Medicare. These taxes are paid to the Social Security Administration.

When a person is injured on the job and has worked for a number of years, earning themselves work credits, they can qualify for SSDI.

To qualify for an SSDI benefit, in addition to having a medically diagnosed disability, a person must be under the age of 65. The amount of their SSDI income is dependent on the number of work credits they earned prior to their disability.

When you apply for SSDI, you must wait 5 months to be eligible and are not paid benefits during this time period.

A person who is on SSDI for two years can then qualify for Medicare. Often prior to this they have used their work insurance of worker’s compensation coverage for insurance if their disability was work-related.

Even though someone under the age of 18 who has a job pays the FICA Social Security taxes, they are not eligible for SSDI benefits. You must be at least 18 years old to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Another key feature of SSDI is that a spouse or dependent children can qualify for auxiliary benefits from your SSDI qualification.

How Are SSI and SSDI Programs Similar?

Both programs offer financial assistance. The key similarity is a person’s disability. You must have a long term diagnosed disability to qualify for either of these programs.

There is some belief that more people qualify for an SSDI benefit than an SSI benefit. The belief is that those who qualify for SSDI had insurance and were able to see a doctor to get diagnosed.

While those who are low-income may not have insurance and won’t see a doctor to get the necessary diagnosis for an SSI qualification.

Both programs are federally funded programs. Once you qualify for each of the programs it also typically allows you to get other types of aide.

Key Differences Between SSI and SSDI

There are a few key differences between the SSI and SSDI programs.

The SSI program is a means-based program and is dependent on income level to qualify. SSI services the elderly, blind, and disabled who can’t care for themselves because of their disability.

They must show a low income to qualify. Often this is the case because they are unable to work because of the disability. It is a program intended for that subset of people and does have strict financial qualifiers to get from it.

SSDI, on the other hand, is part of an entitlement program. As a worker, you pay into social security. If you become disabled and have paid in overtime, earning those work credits, you are “entitled” to benefits.

For SSDI, your income level or assets are not considered when looking to qualify. If you have been paying social security for at least ten years, you can apply for SSDI benefits.  There are some different qualification standards for workers of a younger age, disabled adult children of someone retired or deceased.

When you qualify for an SSI benefit, you immediately qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is paid at both the state and local levels. Those who qualify for SSI can get Medicaid coverage right away. Medicaid coverage is pretty comprehensive and often covers medical needs completely.

SSDI recipients, on the other hand, can eventually get insurance coverage through Medicare. They must, however, wait two years to be considered. Medicare, unlike, Medicaid, covers some routine services but not all needed insurance coverage.

Often when a person is on Medicare they need to get supplemental insurance to cover the gaps in coverage.

Benefits Amounts

The other significant difference between SSI and SSDI is the dollar amount of support you receive from the two programs.

SSI payments are noticeably lower than SSDI payments. SSI payments are calculated from something called the FBR or the federal benefit rate.

FBR is $783 per month for individuals and $1,175 for couples in 2020. This rate adjusts like social security based on cost of living adjustments.

There are some strict rules related to income and resources. For example, if you receive free food or rent because of your disability from another source, SSI counts this as income and will subtract it from your benefits.

Looking at SSDI benefits is a little more complicated. This benefit is not a set number and is calculated in a similar fashion to social security. The average SSDI benefit in 2020 is $1,258.

On the social security benefits statement, there is a number called the disabled worker’s benefit. The maximum allowed benefit for someone qualifying for SSDI and their family/dependents is 150 to 180% of that number.

While SSI looks at your means to qualify, SSDI will also consider your ability to keep working with your condition. They will consider questions like:

  • Are you able to work now?
  • Do you have a condition that qualifies as “severe?”
  • Social security has a list of disabling conditions, is your disability on this list?
  • Are you able to perform the kind of work you once did?
  • Are you able to do other types of work?

They will also consider if your disability is anticipated to last more than a year. All of these factors are part of the wage equation for qualifying for SSDI benefits.

Questions About SSI and SSDI

Here are some questions related to SSI and SSDI.

Can I Qualify for Both SSI and SSDI?

Yes, you can qualify for both programs at the same time. You would need to be disabled, low-income, and have the needed work history.

How Do I Apply?

As an adult you can apply for both programs online. If you are completing an application for a disabled child or for a nondisabled senior over the age of 65, you must apply in person at your local social security office.

How Is a Disability Defined?

Disabilities must be proven. There are strict guidelines for what qualifies as a disability through the Social Security Administration.

Your ability to perform work and the anticipated length of the disability will be considered.

How Long Does It Take to Apply?

The application process can take time, often for many months. It requires applying and providing medical documentation related to the disability.

Many people applying for benefits find it’s necessary to seek legal assistance to wade through the application process.

Understanding SSI vs SSDI

While SSI vs SSDI letters sound remarkably similar, the programs really only share needing a disability to qualify. They are different programs, with different amounts of benefits, funded from different federal sources.

Do you need help understanding or qualifying for SSI or SSDI? We can help you figure out how to get the benefits you deserve. Contact us today to get information on the application process for these programs.