The Two Types of Social Security Disability Benefits

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP

You may be wondering if you qualify for disability benefits through Social Security. You will need to check the requirements if you hope to apply. The SSA provides disability protections through two programs:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI covers disabled workers and, in some cases, the family members who depend on them financially. SSDI benefits may go to disabled widows and disabled adult children.

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is a program to assist low‐income individuals, including those who are disabled, blind, or 65 or over.

SSDI and SSI have important differences but one very important thing in common: the same, very strict definition of disability. To qualify for benefits in either program, you must be viewed as unable to work because of a very serious condition that will last at least one year or end in death.

SSDI and SSI consider the same health issues in deciding if you’re disabled, including medical evidence and limitations on your ability to function in the workplace. But they have different nonmedical requirements, pay different benefits, and have different rules for eligibility.

Here are some differences between SSDI and SSI:

  • Eligibility of family members: If you qualify for SSDI, certain dependent family members, such as a child, also may get payments based on your work record. By contrast, if you qualify for SSI, no one else in your family qualifies based on your individual application. (Eligible spouses may apply together as a couple and get a larger benefit.)

  • Work restrictions: Working and earning money above certain amounts can cause a loss of benefits in both programs, but they have different income limits and rules for transitioning to work.

  • Citizenship: Noncitizens may qualify for SSDI if they’ve earned their benefits through covered work and tax contributions and if they had authorization to legally work in the United States. Noncitizens face certain restrictions in qualifying for SSI. It’s generally harder for those who entered the United States on or after August 22, 1996.

    SSDI SSI
    Source of payments Disability trust fund General tax revenues
    Minimum initial qualification requirements Must meet the SSA’s disability criteria.
    Must be “insured” because of contributions made to FICA
    or SECA based on your own payroll earnings or those of your spouse
    or your parents.
    Must meet the SSA’s disability criteria.
    Must have limited income and resources.
    Health insurance coverage provided Medicare. Consists of hospital insurance (Part A),
    supplementary medical insurance (Part B), and Medicare Advantage
    (Part C). Voluntary prescription drug benefits (Part D) also are
    included. Title XVIII of the Social Security Act authorizes
    Medicare.
    Medicaid. Medicaid is a jointly funded, federal‐state
    health insurance program for low‐income and needy
    individuals. It covers certain children and some or all of the
    aged, blind, and/or disabled who are eligible to receive federally
    assisted income maintenance payments. Title XIX of the Social
    Security Act authorizes Medicaid. The law gives the states options
    regarding eligibility under Medicaid.
    How is your monthly payment amount figured? The SSA bases your SSDI monthly payment amount on the
    worker’s lifetime average earnings covered by Social
    Security. It may reduce the amount if you receive workers’
    compensation payments (including black lung payments) and/or public
    disability benefits (for example, certain state and civil service
    disability benefits). Other income or resources don’t affect
    the payment amount.
    The SSA usually adjusts the monthly payment amount each year to
    account for cost‐of‐living changes.
    The SSA also can pay SSDI monthly benefits to dependents on your
    record, such as minor children.
    To figure your payment amount, the SSA starts with the federal
    benefit rate (FBR). In 2014, the FBR is $721 for a qualified
    individual and $1,082 for a qualified couple. The SSA subtracts
    your countable income from the FBR and then adds your state
    supplement, if any. It doesn’t count all the income that you
    have. The income amount left after the SSA makes all the allowable
    deductions is “countable income.” The sections on SSI
    employment supports explain some of the ways that the SSA can
    exclude income. It usually adjusts the FBR each year to account for
    cost‐of‐living changes.
    Is a state supplemental payment provided? There is no state supplemental payment with the SSDI
    program.
    Many states pay some people who receive SSI an additional
    amount called a “state supplement.” The amounts and
    qualifications for these state supplements vary from state to
    state.

Source: Social Security Administration