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What is the Difference Between SSI and SSDI?

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Should I apply for SSI or SSDI?

Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis
Updated: 1/25/2023


It doesn’t matter if you apply for SSI, SSDI or both.
The Social Security Administration will consider your income and assets and decide whether your claim is for concurrent SSDI and SSI benefits when your claim is processed at Disability Determination Services.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) are two different programs administered by the Social Security Administration to help individuals with disabilities, but most people have trouble distinguishing between the two programs. Both SSI and SSDI offer cash benefits, but while medical eligibility for disability is evaluated in the same manner for both programs, the financial eligibility requirements are quite different for SSI and SSDI, and there are other important distinctions.

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income provides cash benefits for food, clothing and shelter to blind, disabled and aged people who have little or no income. In order to be eligible for SSI, a person must be:

  •    65 or older, blind, or disabled
  •   A U.S. citizen or lawful resident
  •   Have limited income and assets

The SSI program is paid out from general U.S Treasury funds.

You do not need to have worked a certain amount of time or paid FICA taxes. It can be quite difficult to qualify for SSI simply because the amount of income an individual can earn and still receive benefits is low. If you are an individual earning $841 or more per month, you will not qualify for SSI.

If you have been denied disability don’t give up! Contact a Disability lawyer at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and get the benefits you deserve.

The monthly payment amount for the SSI program is based on the “federal benefit rate.”

This amount changes annually and in 2023 is $914 per month for individuals and $1,371 for couples. Any income you receive during the month, minus certain exclusions, can be subtracted from your federal monthly SSI payment. Most states will supplement SSI payments, but each state has its own rules and requirements. Texas administers its own supplemental payments, restricting those payments to individuals receiving institutional care paid for by Medicaid to offset that cost.

In the SSI program, income is defined as money earned, Social Security benefits, pensions, and the value of in-kind support and maintenance (ISM).

If you receive SSI and someone provides you with a place to live and meals you don’t pay for, it’s considered income and its value is subtracted from your monthly payment. ISM includes food, shelter (rent/mortgages), property taxes, utilities, and goods given as gifts, but not phone, cable, or medical expenses.

There are a few circumstances where food and shelter are not considered ISM:

  •    If a person lives with a spouse and minor children and no one outside the household pays for food and shelter
  •   If a person lives with others and pays their share of rent and food
  •   If a person is given food and shelter as a loan and pays back the loan

The Social Security Administration takes into account other resources when considering an applicant’s income and assets.

Countable resources are financial assets that can be converted to cash and includes stocks, bonds, and property, but not the home you live in or a vehicle that you rely on for transportation. An individual’s countable resources cannot exceed $2,000 and a couple’s assets cannot exceed $3,000.

You can apply for SSI online or make a telephone appointment.

If approved, payments begin the month you are approved. In Texas recipients of SSI automatically qualify for Medicaid to pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other health expenses and may also be eligible for other assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

What is SSDI?

Perhaps the most significant difference between SSI and SSDI is that SSDI is available to disabled people who have earned work credits by working a certain amount of time and paid Social Security taxes while SSI is available to people who have not earned enough work credits or not worked at all.

SSDI is funded through payroll taxes and in order to qualify for SSDI, an applicant must meet the following basic requirements:

  •    You must have worked long enough and recently enough in a job where you paid Social Security taxes, usually any 5 of the past 10 years
  •   You must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability and has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death

The Social Security Administration does not limit the amount of assets or unearned income you may have to be eligible for SSDI, or any income your spouse earns; however, the SSA does place a limit on the amount of income you can earn through work while receiving Social Security Disability benefits.

If you are able to earn “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA), you will not be considered disabled. In 2023 the SGA for a disabled applicant is $1,470 per month and $2,460 for a blind applicant.

Once approved for SSDI, there is a five-month waiting period before payments begin.

The amount of benefit a claimant receives depends on their earning record; a disabled person’s spouse and dependent children are also eligible for dependent benefits. Applicants may be eligible for Medicare after receiving SSDI for two years.

Can a person qualify for both SSI and SSDI benefits?

Under some circumstances, yes.

If an applicant’s income and assets are low enough to qualify for SSI, but the applicant also worked long enough to qualify for SSDI, it’s possible to receive “concurrent benefits.” This usually occurs when an applicant has not worked much or has earned low wages. For example, if an individual is approved for an SSDI monthly benefit of $500, they may also receive SSI to increase their payment to $914. In other cases, an applicant who has been approved for SSDI and is still within the five-month waiting period may receive the full monthly SSI payment of $914 in the meantime. When SSDI payments begin, the SSI payment will be reduced, or even terminated, depending upon the amount of SSDI they are approved for.

It doesn’t matter if you apply for SSI, SSDI or both.

The Social Security Administration will consider your income and assets and decide whether your claim is for concurrent SSDI and SSI benefits when your claim is processed at Disability Determination Services. Both programs apply the same definition of disability and use the same disability evaluation process.

It should be noted that approval rates for SSDI are higher for SSDI applications, conceivably because SSDI applicants are more likely to have health insurance coverage through work and have seen a doctor regularly for their medical condition.

It is difficult to get a disability determination without providing medical evidence of a disabling condition and receiving regular treatment.

Applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a confusing and frustrating process.

Obtaining the advice and assistance of a qualified disability attorney can help you avoid unnecessary mistakes and delays and improve your chances for success.

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.

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Attorney Lloyd BemisAuthor: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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