It’s easy to be confused by Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) because both governmental programs provide benefits to qualifying individuals. They have names that sound similar. But there are important differences between these federal services.

The key distinction is that SSI is meant to help elderly, blind, disabled or low-income people who either haven’t worked or don’t have the necessary work credits to take advantage of SSDI. In contrast, Social Security Disability is designed for workers who have built up a certain amount of work credits and qualify because they develop a physical or mental problem that keeps them from working.

SSDI Defined

Unlike SSI, SSDI is given to qualifying individuals who have worked and contributed to the Social Security trust fund known as FICA. This Social Security tax is paid by employees, employers and self-employed individuals.

The people who receive SSDI suffer from either physical or mental impairments that stop them from doing their jobs. To obtain SSDI approval, applicants must prove that they have a disability that could potentially last from 12 months to the rest of their lifetime.

People who are approved for SSD benefits have worked for a number of years. Applicants for Social Security Disability need to be under age 65 and hold a specific number of “work credits.” Usually, at least 40 credits are necessary before you can be granted disability benefits. But there are some exceptions, depending on your circumstances.

Also, SSDI allows a disabled individual’s spouse and dependents to receive partial payments. It should be noted, though, that only adults older than 18 are eligible for this aspect of the SSDI program.

Another important detail to keep in mind is that SSDI applicants have a five-month waiting period, although benefits may be expedited for those people who qualify for compassionate allowances. After this waiting period concludes, your payment will depend on past earnings, which is similar to the Social Security retirement system.

SSI Defined

It’s important to understand that Supplemental Security Income is based on need, calculated by income and assets, and receives its governmental support through general taxes. SSI is not related to work history at all. People who meet SSI’s criteria make live on an extremely limited income— less than $2,000 (or less than $3,000 as a couple).

Furthermore, individuals who are disabled and earn an income that qualifies for SSI can receive Medicaid in their home state as well. In addition, those receiving SSI may be eligible for food stamps. The amount is determined by where the person lives and their total monthly income.

Different Services for those in Need

While SSI and SSDI are different programs run by the federal government, both services are intended to help individuals from certain sectors in financial need. Whether you are elderly, blind, disabled, struggle with a meager income or sustain a disability, you may be eligible for assistance if your disability prevents you from working.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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