What is the Difference Between SSI and SSDI?

$100 bill and SS card

Social Security in Atlanta can feel like a confusing maze to the average person attempting to apply for various benefits or programs. Medicare alone offers four different (but equally complicated) variations, each covering a different arrangement of needs. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) are two semi-related programs that are often confused with one another. Both programs offer benefits to those who are disabled, but each one does so under different circumstances. The runaround trying to decide which one is most appropriate for you can be costly and frustrating.

First, it’s important to understand how Social Security works on a broad level. 

Social Security is the financial safety net for people in this country who are retired or disabled and may have trouble meeting their basic needs. The government funds numerous Social Security programs through taxes. The working population pays into Social Security, and people in need receive it in monthly allotments. The working population does so with the good faith that when they retire or become injured, they’ll be on the receiving end of these benefits. 

Workers qualify for Social Security benefits by accumulating work credits over their work history. Credits are given based on a worker’s income, and the amount of income a worker has to make to receive a credit rises as the average U.S. income goes up. In 2020, workers receive one credit for every $1,410 they earn. 

Workers can earn up to four credits per year and must earn at least 40 credits to receive retirement and Medicare benefits.

There are special rules around work credits and workers who become disabled. Therein lies the difference between the SSI and SSDI programs.

SSDI benefits are determined by the recipient’s work credits and history. SSI benefits are based on need, regardless of work credits or history.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI pays monthly benefits to people who are out of work for at least a year due to a disability. SSDI is not intended to serve as a permanent solution. Rather, it’s intended to help meet the recipient’s needs until he or she is able to work again. SSDI offers work incentives that let recipients keep receiving benefits as they transition back to work.

To qualify for SSDI, a person must have worked a certain number of years and accumulated a certain amount of work credits before becoming disabled. 

  • Workers who become disabled before the age of 24 can qualify with six credits, but they must have been earned in the three years prior to the worker becoming disabled.
  • Workers who become disabled between the ages of 24 and 31 can qualify if they worked half the time between age 21 and the age they became disabled. 

For instance, if someone became disabled at age 29, he or she would need four years of work and 16 credits. 

  • For workers who become disabled between ages 31 and 42, the requirement is 20 credits which amounts to five years of work. 
  • For workers aged 43 and up, the credit requirement increases by one credit each year. 

For instance, if someone became disabled at 43, he or she would need 21 credits. If someone became disabled at 44, he or she would need 22 credits, and so forth.

You can see a more detailed chart on the SSA’s website.

If a disabled worker dies, his or her family may receive SSDI survivors benefits if the deceased has accumulated six credits and six months of work in the three years prior to death. A family members’ eligibility to receive these benefits is not dependent on their own work history or credit accumulation. We encourage you to read up on these benefits in more detail through the SSA material on its website.

Disabled workers who haven’t earned enough credits to qualify for SSDI may still receive benefits through the SSI program. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI provides benefits for people based on income and need, not work history. To be eligible for SSI benefits, an applicant must have extremely low income and net worth.

Basically, those who earn less than $1,600 per month may receive SSI benefits. The less you make, the bigger the benefit you will receive. There are specialized limits and benefits for blind applicants.

The income limits and benefit tiers are determined by the federal benefit rate (FBR). To receive SSI benefits, a person’s monthly income is subtracted from the FBR to determine the benefit amount. In 2020, the FBR was set at $783 for an individual, $1,175 for a couple, and $392 for an essential person—that is, someone the state deems essential to the basic care of the SSI recipient, like a caregiver. 

It’s important to note that SSI doesn’t count certain types of income. The SSI lets you discount $65, plus half of your wages. Food stamps, housing assistance, and medical costs are just a few purchases that you are allowed to discount from your total income. 

Most states supplement SSI benefits with additional funding. Only Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia do not.  

Other differences

SSDI and SSI differ in how long they take to go into effect. SSI recipients start receiving benefits the first full month after they filed or were found eligible for SSI. SSDI recipients don’t receive benefits until six months after the date they become disabled, as determined by the SSA.

SSDI and SSI recipients receive medical care through different programs. SSDI recipients qualify for Medicare two years after entering the SSDI program. Medicare pays for standard hospital services and most primary medical care. SSI recipients, on the other hand, receive Medicaid. Medicaid is paid for by both state and federal health care, which allows for more thorough coverage than Medicare.

While SSI recipients qualify for Medicaid automatically and immediately, SSDI recipients must wait 24 months from the time their benefits begin to qualify for Medicare.

Getting the help you need

It’s very common for a person’s initial SSI or SSDI application to be denied. You may need help arguing your claim or simply navigating the process.

At Affleck and Gordon, we’ll help you obtain the benefits you need. For over 45 years, we’ve helped our clients with their Social Security issues all throughout the state of Georgia.

We don’t charge you to hear about your case. We’ll evaluate your claim for free. Get started here, or call us to arrange an appointment.

If your Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 45 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 990-3945.

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