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Social Security Disability vs. Supplemental Security Income


No one plans to become disabled and unable to work, but this unfortunate situation happens every day. In an ideal world, everyone in this situation would have the financial resources to weather this setback, or at least disability insurance to help them, but for millions of Americans, there is no personal safety net. In these situations, most will seek disability benefits through the federal government via the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. People tend to be more aware of the disability benefits offered through SSDI, and may not know about a secondary option called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both of these programs provide benefits to the disabled, but each target different individuals, with SSI tailored to help those individuals unable to obtain SSDI benefits. Considering the approval for rate for SSDI applications is approximately 40 percent, most will have to find other options for support, and SSI could be a good alternative if a person meets the income requirements. Understanding how these two programs differ will help those exploring federal disability benefits make informed decisions about when or which option to pursue.

Common Definition of Disability

Before delving into where each program differs, it is first important to highlight what essential aspect is the same for both – the definition of disability. Since each program exists to help disabled Americans, an applicant must still satisfy the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of what constitutes a disability. Both programs require all recipients be unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment for at least 12 months, or suffer from a condition that is expected to result in death.


The principal difference between SSDI and SSI is eligibility. A person’s work history is a key component of qualifying for SSDI coverage because the program is funded by taxpayers who contribute to the program. Consequently, those who paid into the Social Security system through the taxation of their income may qualify for SSDI benefits, if the amount paid was sufficient to earn 20 work credits over the past 10 years. Work credits are calculated on a quarterly basis, and for 2017, the minimum income that must be earned to maintain eligibility for the program is $1,300. Thus, the monthly benefits received are entirely based on how much a person earned over the entirety of his/her working life. Additionally, auxiliary benefits (partial benefits) are available for a recipient’s spouse and dependent children, and those approved are automatically covered by Medicare after two years.


SSI, on the other hand, was created to assist those with very limited means that did not work enough to qualify for SSDI. Thus, there are strict asset and income guidelines that must be met in order to qualify, and the award of benefits is primarily based on a person’s financial need. To qualify, an individual cannot own more than $2,000 in assets or earn more than $735 per month. Importantly, a spouse’s income is counted toward the income limit, which could disqualify an otherwise eligible individual from coverage. However, not all sources of income are counted toward the monthly maximum. For example, the following sources are disregarded:

  • the first $65 earned from working and half the amount over $65;
  • SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps; and
  • shelter provided by a non-profit group.

Further, because SSI is income-based, the benefit amount paid each month can fluctuate depending on how much was recently earned. Currently, the maximum benefit paid to recipients is $735 per month, and some States supplement this amount, though Florida is not included in that group.

Get Help

Figuring out how to replace lost income following the onset of a disability is a critical issue that should not be solely left to the whims of the federal government to determine. Hiring an experienced disability insurance attorney can make all the difference in gaining approval for benefits, and Farrell Disability Law understands what it takes to get clients the benefits they deserve. If you live in Jacksonville, Callahan, Bryceville or the surrounding area, contact us for a free consultation.


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