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How do SSI and SSDI compare?

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2024 | Qualifying for disability benefits |

People who are injured or have a life-altering disability may need to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Securing Income (SSI). These programs are meant to provide a source of income to individuals who can’t work.

There are strict requirements for both programs. While they’re both administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), they’re significantly different.

Eligibility criteria

The primary difference between SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) lies in their eligibility criteria. SSI is designed to help aged, blind and disabled individuals who have limited income and resources, providing them with cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.

SSDI is available to individuals who have worked and paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes and are now unable to work due to a disability. Eligibility is based on the individual’s work history and the number of work credits they have accumulated, which typically requires five out of the last 10 years of work.

Benefits calculations

SSI benefits are determined based on financial need and don’t depend on an individual’s work history. The federal government sets the maximum benefit amount and can be supplemented by the state in some cases. On the other hand, SSDI benefits are calculated based on the individual’s earnings record. The more an individual has earned and paid into Social Security, the higher their SSDI benefit will be.

Health insurance benefits

Health insurance coverage is another area where SSI and SSDI differ. Individuals receiving SSI benefits are typically eligible for Medicaid, a state-run health insurance program designed to provide coverage to people with low income. Individuals on SSDI are eligible for Medicare, a federal health insurance program, after a waiting period of 24 months from the date of their disability onset.

Waiting period

SSDI recipients are subject to a five-month waiting period from the onset of their disability before they can start receiving benefits. This means that after being approved, an individual must wait five months to receive their first SSDI payment. There is no such waiting period for SSI. Eligible individuals can start receiving benefits in the first full month after they apply or are determined to be eligible.

Understanding how these programs differ can help applicants determine which to apply for. Because many cases are denied at first, working with a legal representative who can help to better ensure that cases are either approved “from go” or that appeals efforts are ultimately successful.