SSI and SSDI Are Lifelines for Many People With Disabilities. Are You Sure You Know How They Work?

Some of you have probably benefitted from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). But maybe you’ve only heard of these government programs, and the details are a little fuzzy.

If you’re wondering how they work and how to take advantage of them, you’ve come to the right place.

We all know that having a disability is expensive because of all the extra equipment and medical care we need. To make things worse, people with disabilities have a harder time finding a job and attending college.

The upshot:  Most of us could use all the financial help we can get.

That’s where SSI and SSDI come in. These programs provide financial assistance to Americans with disabilities. 

They’re similar in some ways, so they’re often confused. But they have distinct differences too.

SSI pays benefits to an adult or child who meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) requirements for a qualifying disability and has limited income and resources. 

SSDI pays benefits to someone with a qualifying disability and certain members of their family if the person with a disability is “insured.” This means they worked long enough and recently enough, and they paid Social Security taxes on their earnings. 

To receive SSDI benefits, you must have a qualifying disability that prevents you from working full time for at least a year. 

Here’s how the two programs compare.

Similarities Between SSI and SSDI

Medical and Functional Disability Criteria

Both programs have the same criteria for determining whether someone has a qualifying disability. This determination is based on medical evidence (supplied by your doctor or other healthcare provider) and your physical abilities.

Application process

The application process is the same for both programs, and they share the same disability determination. You will have to fill out different forms, however. 

Health insurance

There are separate health insurance programs associated with SSI and SSDI.

Key Difference Between SSI and SSDI

The most important difference between SSI and SSDI is this: SSI is based on financial need, while SSDI is based on contributions by employees and employers to the Social Security trust fund — which means SSDI recipients need to have a job history. 

Other Differences

  • Benefit amount
  • Eligibility dates
  • Health insurance
  • Work incentives

For reference, here’s a handy chart of the similarities and differences between SSI and SSDI.

Source: U.S. Social Security Administration

If I’ve Never Worked, Should I Only Apply for SSI?

Your SSA case manager can help you apply for both SSI and SSDI regardless of your work history (or lack thereof). That’s because, even if you haven’t worked, you may still be eligible for Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits.

Disabled Adult Child Benefits

If you’re a dependent adult who becomes disabled before the age of 22, you may be eligible for DAC benefits if one of your parents has passed away or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits themselves. The SSA thinks of this as a child’s benefit because it’s based on your parent’s paid Social Security earnings record.

To receive DAC benefits:

  • You must meet the SSA disability criteria for adults and not get married.
  • Because benefits are paid based on the parent’s earnings record, you don’t need a work history.
  • If you’re an adult child with a disability who already receives SSI, still check if you’re entitled to DAC benefits based your parent’s earnings record. Circumstances might have changed since you initially applied for DAC benefits, and you might be eligible for higher benefits and/or entitled to Medicare as a result.
  • If you’re eligible, you will receive DAC benefits as long as you’re disabled.

Other Types of Social Security Disability Benefits

The Disability Law Group notes that there are two other types of Social Security Disability benefits: Social Security Dependent Benefits and Social Security Survivor Benefits.

If you qualify for SSDI benefits, your spouse may be eligible for Social Security Dependent Benefits. He or she must be at least 62 years old or caring for your child who is under 17 years old.

If you qualify for SSDI and pass away, your spouse can receive Social Security Survivor Benefits once they’re 60 years old (50 if they’re also disabled) based on your earnings record. 

More information is available from the Social Security Administration.

So, that’s the scoop on SSI and SSDI. How do you apply for them? I’ll tell you all about that in an upcoming post. TwP

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