The two largest offerings by the Social Security Administration for people with disabilities is the Supplemental Security Income program and Social Security Disability Insurance. Although both offerings are similar, each one serves a distinct purpose in order to better serve beneficiaries’ needs. Here is a closer look at both programs and how they work.

Social Security Disability Insurance

This program is for individuals who are no longer able to work due to a disability. To qualify for this program, individuals must have “paid into” social security through taxable income from work. SSDI receives its revenue from employers and workers through payroll taxes. If an individual paid enough in payroll tax contributions throughout their lifetime, they are eligible for SSDI benefits.

To qualify, individuals must have earned enough credits over the past 10 years. The Social Security Administration defines credit as “20 or more quarters of coverage,” and the disability must last for at least 12 months. Once a worker receives benefits from SSDI for two-consecutive years, they will then be automatically enrolled in Medicare.

The Social Security Administration determines an individual’s monthly benefit amount based on their lifetime earnings record. Individuals who apply for SSDI must wait five months so the Social Security Administration can verify any disabilities. If individuals have an emergency disability, the SSA may expedite their applications.

Supplemental Security Income

Also known as SSI, this program is for individuals who have not paid enough in taxable income toward social security. The program is not based on an individual’s earnings or past work history. SSI is for low-income Americans who have limited means and did not earn enough credits to qualify for SSDI. The SSA determines an individual’s monthly benefit amount based on need. In some states, a person can receive an additional monthly payment.

SSI is available to anyone 65 or older or any adult who has a disability or has children with a disability. To qualify, the SSA will calculate any assets applicants own or any cash they may have on hand. An adult’s combined accounts must not exceed $3,000, and an individual account cannot exceed $2,000. The SSA considers houses and automobiles separately.

Individuals applying for social security disability benefits must provide full disclosure. The SSA will also set up a special appointment to go over financial disclosures. The SSA also provides a list of impairments that fall under the medical criteria for social security disability. The list of impairments is effective as of 1/17/2017.

End Notes

If you choose to apply for SSDI benefits, note that there is no guaranteed time frame for a claim to be approved or denied, which is why it is better to begin filing your claim sooner rather than later. Generally speaking, the initial decision takes between 30-90 days, but if the claim is denied, reconsideration appeals will take longer — a year or more. Seeking the aid of an attorney specialized in social security disability law may aid in expediting this process, as well as increase your likelihood for success.


Additional resources: