SSI vs SSDI: Disability Benefits | Cook and Associates

Disability Benefits: SSI vs SSDI


It can often be challenging for individuals with disabilities to locate and obtain the support needed to manage their symptoms and costs. For many, navigating the world of disability benefits is often the difference between affording adequate care or having their needs do unmet.

In the United States, the government offers benefits programs to the disabled called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). These programs, while similar in name, are substantially different in both their requirements and the type of aid they offer. Learn more about the differences below.

Qualifying as Disabled

Before looking at the differences between SSI and SSDI, we need to first establish disability. Without proving your disability to the location social security office, you will not be eligible to receive SSI payments or any other disability-related aid.

Proof and documentation of your disability is done through documented medical examinations and fitting the criteria set for in The Blue Book. This is a manual set forth by the Social Security administration outlining the criteria for various qualifying mental and physical disabilities.

Once you are able to work with medical professionals to relieve a diagnosis which qualifies you for disability coverage, the next step is choosing the correct resource for your situation.

Similar Names, Different Systems

In the Social Security world, there are several differences between SSI and SSDI ranging from their eligibility requirements to the level of financial funding each is able to provide. Below we will go through some of the biggest differences that often determine which type of aid an individual receives.

SSI is Needs-Based

The government has certain programs that are socially funded, meaning they are paid for through general taxes and meant to help fund the general public. SSI is one of these systems as it is a system supported by tax dollars— each tax paying individual helps to pay into this benefit system.

As such, SSI is given to individuals based on financial eligibility. This allows for individuals with limited income and resources to continue meeting their basic needs.

While this acts as a valuable public safety net, this financial requirement creates a heavily restricted eligibility system. For 2020, you must earn less than $783 as an individual or $1,175 as a couple in monthly income to retain SSI eligibility. Similarly, individuals must have less than $2,000 and couples must have less than $3,000 in countable assets (not including home and transportation) in order to remain qualified.

For these reasons, individuals who are eligible for SSI are often eligible for other government assistance programs such as Medicaid and nutritional aid programs.

In part because of the wide range of assistance programs available to those who qualify for SSI, the amount of monthly compensation through this program is often less than what individuals might qualify for through SSDI.

SSDI is Entitlement Based

On the other side of the line, we have SSDI. This is an entitlement-based program that relies on your personal contribution through taxes and work history in order to qualify. This is determined by how many “work credits” you have accumulated throughout your working years— depending on the age you become disabled, you may need a greater or lesser number of work credits to qualify.

Unlike SSI, the income requirements for this program are far more lenient. While an individual looking to apply for SSDI cannot earn more than $1,070 per month, they are allowed to retain any number of assets and receive income from investments. Furthermore, if the SSDI applicant is married, the income of their spouse will not affect SSDI eligibility.

Finally, the nature of SSDI is such that the monthly disbursements are usually higher than those seen in SSI. However, this is a general rule and there may be exceptions on a case by case basis.

How Do I Know if I Get SSI or SSDI?

The simple answer: you work with an attorney.

This article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applying for SSI benefits or SSDI benefits. Due to the complicated nature of the SSA and the importance of receiving benefits for many individuals, working with an SSI lawyer is one of the safest ways to give yourself the best possible outcome. Not only will your attorney ensure your filings are free from clerical errors that can halt your claim, but they can use the law to your advantage when fighting for your right to benefits.

At Cook and Associates, this is exactly what we do. If you’re interested in beginning your SSI journey, reach out via phone or message and tell us a bit about your story.

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