Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two separate disability benefits programs that were designed to meet the needs of different groups of disabled Americans. But there are some situations in which disabled individuals can collect both SSDI and SSI benefits, called concurrent benefits.
The simplest way to explain how you might be eligible to receive SSDI and SSI benefits at the same time is that you have been approved for monthly SSDI payments, but they are so low that they do not exceed the income threshold established to qualify for monthly SSI payments.
Most people see SSDI benefits as income replacement for when you become disabled and cannot work, so they wonder what might make monthly SSDI payments low enough to also qualify for SSI payments. It could be that you worked very little during the last ten years. Similarly, you might have had little work history at the time you became disabled or became disabled at such a young age that you were unable to build up a significant work history. Or, you might have worked but earned low wages throughout the course of your employment.
To review, SSDI benefits are based on meeting minimum disability eligibility requirements along with building up enough work credits over the course of your employment history. Where SSDI was designed to bridge the gap between when you became disabled and when you could start collecting Social Security retirement benefits, SSI was designed to provide additional income for those who are disabled and cannot work and also have little to no income or assets in order to meet their basic needs, i.e., food and clothing; therefore, any income from what the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers “countable sources” is reviewed to determine eligibility.
Countable income includes both earned and unearned income. For example, wages that you earn are classified as earned income, whereas SSDI benefits you receive if you qualify are classified as unearned income. In order to qualify for both SSDI and SSI benefits, any money that you earn cannot exceed the established minimums set by the SSI program. In large part, individual states are responsible for setting the SSI income limits.
SSA also looks at your assets when determining eligibility for SSI benefits. The total asset limit for an individual is $2,000 and $3,000 for a married couple. If the combination of your income and assets exceeds the threshold for SSI, but SSA determines that you meet its definition of disabled, you might still be entitled to SSDI benefits. And if you are disabled but do not have the work history or work credits to receive SSDI benefits, you might still be entitled to SSI benefits.
SSA does not count certain parts of your assets and income toward the countable income threshold. It does not count food stamps, shelter received from a non-profit organization, or home energy assistance. And it does not count the first $20 of monthly income, the first $65 of monthly wages, or half the amount of money you receive monthly that exceeds $65. If you are married, however, SSA will consider a portion of your spouse’s income and resources against the threshold.
To qualify for both benefits in 2019, your unearned income (or monthly SSDI payments) must be less than $771 per month if you are an individual and less than $1,157 if you are part of a married couple. These maximum income limits are called the federal benefit rate (FBR). Most people do not qualify for both, however, because their monthly SSDI benefits are too high to also receive SSI benefits.
It is important to remember that SSA’s definition of disability applies to both programs if you are seeking concurrent benefits, and the same disability evaluation process is used for both SSDI and SSI determinations. To qualify for SSDI, you must suffer from a disabling condition that will last a continuous twelve months or is expected to result in your death, be unable to perform your previous work, and be unable to adjust to other types of work. When you reach full retirement age, SSA automatically terminates your SSDI benefits and commences retirement benefits. To qualify for SSI, you must also meet strict income guidelines and have minimal assets and holdings.
There are some instances in which you might qualify for both for a given period of time but subsequently lose your eligibility for SSI benefits. If you qualify for SSDI benefits, you will be required to wait five months without receiving any payments. During that five-month period, you may be eligible for SSI benefits. If, when you do receive SSDI benefits, the monthly amount exceeds the SSI threshold, your SSI benefits will be terminated, and you will receive exclusively SSDI benefits.
You can, but do not have to, apply for both programs at the time of your disability. You can apply to one program, and if SSA believes that you meet the requirements and need for both programs, SSA can approve you for concurrent benefits.
There are additional perks to receiving concurrent benefits. If you are eligible for SSI benefits alone, you become eligible for Medicaid, and, although Medicaid provides payments for more services, not all doctors accept it. If you are also eligible for SSDI benefits on top of SSI benefits, you will be eligible for Medicare. If you are eligible for Medicare through the SSDI program, you will have to wait two years from the date your SSDI eligibility began to utilize the health insurance. But most doctors accept Medicare, so you will have an easier time finding a provider.
If you are unsure which benefits you are entitled to, seek out a qualified Social Security Disability attorney. He or she can evaluate your claim and make the best determination regarding which disability benefits program meets the needs of your situation.