The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides monthly income to those who are disabled and cannot earn a living as a result of their disabilities. The SSA has two separate programs that provide disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). While both SSI and SSDI use the same definition of “disabled” to qualify for benefits, the programs have some very important differences.
If you are disabled and cannot work as a result of your impairment, it is important that you understand the SSI and SSDI benefits programs. There is a long application process for each program that takes many months, if not years. Our New York and New Jersey SSDI and SSI attorneys can help you move your claim through the system as rapidly as possible while doing everything we can to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits you deserve.
Important Differences Between SSI and SSDI
While SSI and SSDI are similar in that both provide benefits only to people who have long-term disabilities, the differences between the two programs are very important. The key differences between SSI and SSDI relate to:
- Basic eligibility qualification criteria.
- Amount of monthly benefits available.
- Access to government health insurance (Medicaid and Medicare).
- When payments begin.
Basic Eligibility/Qualifying Criteria
Social Security Disability Insurance is a special kind of insurance policy. When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you are required to pay into the SSDI system, and money is withheld from your paycheck. The withholding is like the premium you pay for insurance coverage. Once you have worked long enough and paid enough into the system, you earn coverage for a period of time and can apply for SSDI benefits if you become unable to work. However, like most insurance policies, SSDI expires over time when you stop working and paying into the system.
As you pay into the SSDI system, you earn “work credits.”. The amount of work credits that you need to have earned in order to be eligible for SSDI benefits varies depending upon how old you are at the time that you become disabled. The SSA website has a detailed table of the number of work credits that you must have, which is broken down by age. In addition, you must have earned twenty work credits in the last forty calendar quarters. A calendar quarter is a three-month period ending on the last day of March, June, September and December. There are four quarters in a year, so you can earn up to four work credits for each full year that you work. So, if you have worked five full years out of the last ten years, you could have twenty work credits that you earned in the forty quarters.
SSDI is not a means-tested program. Even if your family has resources or income but you are disabled and cannot work, you could still receive SSDI income because you have paid for disability insurance coverage through your payroll taxes.
Supplemental Security Income, on the other hand, is a means-tested program. Since SSI is needs-based, it is not paid for through payroll taxes, and your past work history is not relevant for qualifying for SSI benefits. SSI provides benefits to elderly, blind and disabled people who lack income and assets. To qualify for SSI benefits, you need to prove that you have very limited income and that your family resources fall below a certain level.
The SSA website provides examples of what qualifies as income for purposes of determining eligibility for SSI benefits. In addition to having income below the allowable levels, your family must also have less than $2,000 in resources for individuals, or $3,000 in resources for families.
Amount of Benefits Available
Another important difference between SSI and SSDI is the amount of monthly income you can receive from the Social Security Administration.
With SSDI, monthly benefits are based on how much you have earned over the course of your working life. The majority of people receiving SSDI benefits receive anywhere from $300 to $2,220 each month in benefits, with an average monthly payment of $1,132 as of 2013. The maximum monthly SSDI benefit that a disabled individual can receive is $2,533 as of 2013.
These benefits are much higher than those available under SSI. While SSI benefits are subject to periodic adjustments for cost-of-living, the current maximum that a person can receive through SSI is $710 per month. The maximum a couple can receive each month is $1,066. The SSA website has the updated amounts for each year based on cost-of-living adjustments.
SSDI benefits can provide more in monthly income than SSI benefits. Those who qualify for SSDI, including disabled children of working parents, are generally better off applying for the SSDI program. In some situations, it is possible for an applicant to receive benefits under both programs.
Access to Government Health Insurance
People who are disabled often need assistance with their medical bills and costs. While both SSI and SSDI can result in a disabled recipient receiving government health insurance coverage, the programs treat this issue very differently.
In most cases, those qualifying for SSI benefits will be automatically eligible to receive Medicaid benefits. Medicaid is the means-tested government insurance program that provides coverage to people who cannot afford health coverage and who make below a certain income level.
Those qualifying for SSDI benefits, on the other hand, also qualify for Medicare coverage. Medicare coverage is the program that provides insurance to the elderly regardless of their financial situation. However, Medicare coverage becomes available to SSDI recipients only after a two-year wait period. This means that the SSDI recipient will have no insurance coverage from the government for the first 24 months of disability unless he or she qualifies for, and separately applies for, Medicaid coverage.
When Payments Begin
A final important difference between SSI and SSDI relates to when you actually start receiving your disability payments.
Disabled individuals who qualify for SSDI benefits can receive back benefits for up to one year prior to the date of their application.
SSI, on the other hand, does not start paying benefits until the time that you actually applied. This means that when your application is approved, you will get back benefits dating only back to the time that you submitted your claim.