If you become disabled and unable to work, you may qualify for disability benefits through Social Security. There are two main disability benefits programs that the Social Security Administration (SSA) runs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Although both programs are managed and overseen by SSA, and the definition of disability that you must meet to qualify for benefits is the same, that is where similarities between the two begin and end. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
SSDI benefits are available to workers who have accumulated a specific number of work credits but are no longer able to work because of a qualifying disability. Generally, these individuals need to have worked for five of the last ten years in jobs where they paid Social Security taxes on their income. If approved for benefits through an often lengthy application process, these individuals are entitled to receive their Social Security Disability benefits. Once they reach retirement age, the SSDI payments will automatically change to retirement benefits.
Because the work done required payment of Social Security taxes, these taxes directly fund the monthly benefit payments for approved SSDI beneficiaries. The amount of income earned and the availability of other assets does not have any bearing on whether a disabled individual can qualify for benefits—any worker is a potential SSDI beneficiary.
After two years of receiving monthly payments, SSDI beneficiaries become eligible for healthcare coverage through Medicare.
Congress created the SSI program in 1972 as a financial safety net for some of America’s most vulnerable populations. SSI benefits are available to low-income individuals who have either never worked or have worked but do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. These benefits are paid out of the government’s general trust fund, not the Social Security trust fund, and they are designed to provide minimum basic financial assistance to pay for food, clothing, and shelter.
Income eligibility is determined by income and assets. In order to meet the requirements, you must have less than $2,000 in assets as an individual (or less than $3,000 in assets as a couple) and extremely limited income.
Although the federal government provides federal funds, these are often not sufficient to meet SSI beneficiaries’ basic needs. Because of this sad reality, many states provide supplemental payments. In many states, qualifying for SSI benefits automatically qualifies people for healthcare through Medicaid. And SSI recipients usually qualify for food stamps as well.
It is possible, under rare circumstances, to qualify for both SSDI and SSI benefits if you meet the work history requirements, and you have limited income and resources.