Knowing Your Disability Benefits: SSDI vs. SSI

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to file for Social Security Disability, it is
important to know that you may or may not be eligible for two different programs. Those
programs are known as Title II or Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Title XVI or
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Your work history and current income and assets will
primarily determine eligibility for either program. You could be eligible for both, one, or neither of
these programs, which is why it is helpful to consult with a legal representative when applying.

Before comparing and contrasting the two programs, it is helpful to look at a very quick
description of each. Title II/SSDI supports individuals who are disabled and have a qualifying
work history, generally resulting from their own employment, but there are instances (primarily
the death of the primary wage-earner) when it can be based on that of a family member
(spouse/parent).

Title XVI/SSI provides minimum basic financial assistance to older adults and persons with
disabilities (regardless of age) with very limited income and resources. Though it will not be
discussed here, people age 65 or older and blind individuals are also eligible for SSI.
The major difference between the two programs is that an SSI determination is based on
age/disability and limited income and resources, whereas an SSDI determination is based on
disability and work credits.

These are some of the most significant differences between the two programs.

Eligibility: For both programs, you need to be disabled. For SSDI, you need to have sufficient work credits through your own employment or the employment of a family member. For SSI, you need to have limited or no income and resources, with certain exceptions for those who are 65 or older or anyone who is blind at any age.

Payment Amount: For SSDI, this is based on a workers’ earnings. The more you made, the more your benefits may be. For SSI recipients, the benefit rate (as of January 1, 2020) is $783.00 for an individual or $1,175.00 for a couple. As of January 1, 2021, those numbers are slated to rise to $794.00 for an individual or $1,191.00 for a couple.

Earnings Requirement: For SSDI, you need to have worked 20 quarters worth of coverage within a 10 year period. That essentially means you need to have worked 5 our of 10 years. There is no work requirement for SSI.

Asset Limits: For SSDI, there are no asset limits. You can have any amount in the bank and still receive benefits, if you otherwise qualify. For SSI, an individual cannot have more than $2,000.00 in assets. For a couple, that limit is $3,000.00

Unearned Income Limit: For SSDI, there is no limit. For SSI, after a small amount is disregarded, any amount you receive is deducted from monthly benefits dollar for dollar.

Health Insurance: For SSDI, you automatically qualify for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period from when your benefits begin. For SSI, you’re automatically qualified for Medicaid (Mass Health in Massachusetts) upon receipt of SSI benefits (in most states).

One important thing to remember is that the medical standard of proof is the same for both
programs. That means if you apply for both, SSA will determine disability for both at the same
time and under the same standard. Said another way, you cannot be medically eligible for one
and not the other. For individuals applying for disability benefits, the differences in eligibility are
based solely on your financial history, i.e., work history, assets, spouse’s income and assets,
etc.

It may be the case that you’re elgiible for both benefits, so applying for both might make the most sense. Then, at a later time, you can determine how to use the benefits to your advantage to qualify for various programs.

In order to find out if either of these programs – individually or in tandem – makes sense for your
situation, it helps to work with a representative who can help navigate you through the process.

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