The Social Security Administration has two programs under which a person with a disability can receive a monthly check to help with the cost of their living expenses. One such program and form of disability payment is called Social Security Income (SSI) and the other is known as Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). Often, people that receive a monthly check may not even realize that there is a difference and may not understand the significance of being clear about which program they are receiving their disability check. However, it is important for people to understand the difference as it may impact their benefits at some point in the future.
SSI and SSDI each have strict eligibility requirements. While they are both available benefits for individuals determined disabled under federal guidelines, SSI is a needs based benefit and SSDI is an entitlement. This significant difference will be explained below.
To be determined “disabled” under the Social Security Administration definition, an individual must be a person under the age of 65 who is not be able to engage in any “substantial gainful activity” (“SGA”) because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of at least a year. A person who receives earned income more than a certain amount each month is considered to have the ability to engage in substantial gainful activity and would not meet the SSA definition of disability.
Eligibility Rules for SSI:
A disabled individual is eligible for SSI monthly payments if they meet a two prong test. (1) The person must be determined disabled under the Social Security Administration definition of Disability; and (2) the disabled individual must have very low income and assets.
Income is the money you receive on a regular basis. The two categories of income are “earned income” such as your wages and “unearned income” which include payments you receive each month that you haven’t earned. In 2023, an individual will meet the income requirement if he or she has less than $914 a month of unearned income. Some states, such as New York State, supplement these amounts. The more countable income you have, the less SSI you will receive. If your income is above the allowed limit, you don’t get SSI at all. Earned income and other types of payments have additional rules.
Assets is defined as the money you have in your bank accounts, cash, stocks, bonds, or other resources that can be converted to cash. A parent’s assets are counted to determine if a child under 18 meets the eligibility requirement. To be eligible for SSI, an individual can have no more than $2,000 in countable resources in the month that SSI benefits are received. (The word “countable” is deliberate because some resources are not considered for eligibility such as the home you live in, the car you own that you use for your transportation, etc.)
SSI and Medicaid: If a person receives SSI in a given month, they are automatically qualified for Medicaid. If a person loses their SSI, they may lose their Medicaid, unless they can qualify for Medicaid separately. So while a person may decide that they can live without an SSI check each month, they must be careful that they don’t lose their health insurance coverage if they were relying on Medicaid for their health insurance.
Eligibility Rules for SSDI:
The eligibility rules for SSDI are complex and the benefits vary for each person. However, the general rule is that there is a (1) Disability requirement and (2) Work Credit Requirement. The huge difference between SSI and SSDI is that for SSDI there is no income or resource requirement. A person will qualify for SSDI benefits based on their own past work history or the work history of their retired or deceased parent. The work history must reflect sufficient work credits to qualify. One work credit is obtained for working a minimum amount in an annual quarter (fluctuates each year), and up to 4 work credits can be earned in a year. The older the applicant is, the more credits a person would need to meet the work history requirement. For example, someone that is 58 will need more work credits than someone that is 29. The amount of the SSDI check that a person receives each month is based on the amount that you (or your parent) has paid in social security taxes. The amount of this check can be substantially more than an SSI check.
SSDI and Medicare: If a person qualifies for SSDI, then after a 24 month waiting period, you can also receive Medicare benefits. Some disabled individuals may still wish to access Medicaid benefits as well as they may wish to access certain programs that are only available through a Medicaid program.
The differences between these programs are significant and important to keep an eye on if you or a loved one are enrolled in either. A change in your circumstances can result in loss of your monthly benefits check, or a surprise loss of your medical insurance though Medicaid. If you have any question about the type of benefits that you are receiving, or would like to learn more about your options, you should contact your local social security office or speak with an attorney that is familiar with these programs.