Your Guide to SSI and SSDI: What Are Social Security’s Disability Programs?

Social Security Disability Programs

Disabled Americans have access to a wide variety of federal benefits that can help pay bills when a disability prevents them from working. Whether you’ve had a disability since childhood or were disabled through an accident or illness, you may be able to take advantage of federal programs that will keep you from being destitute.

SSI & SSDI Programs

Two of the most common aids programs are Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance. These programs are both offered by the Social Security Administration and can combine a mix of federal and state funds.

While SSI and SSDI both help people who cannot work due to disabilities, they typically help different people.

The SSDI program requires you to have a strong work history and pay into the system through payroll taxes, so that your benefit amount is determined by the amount of taxes you’ve paid over your lifetime. This means SSDI is often reserved for those who have had to leave the workforce due to their disability.

SSI provides assistance for low-income people who may not have a strong work history, or who have been unable to work for a long period of time.

Each of these programs is best explained by a lawyer who can help you determine eligibility and advise you of which assistance program you should apply for when you’re ready.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (also called SSI) is a disability assistance program that is offered on a very specific needs-based scale according to existing assets and income. The program is paid for by general fund taxes and is available to any citizen who meets its criteria.

To be eligible for the SSI benefit, the person must be blind or have a disability and also:

  • Have a limited income and resources
  • Live in the U.S.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or a foreign national in the U.S. for legitimate reasons and adhering to a specific case, such as under one of the available visa programs.

Disabled children under the age of 18 can also get SSI benefits if their parents meet the above requirements other than the disability.

SSI doesn’t have work history requirements and typically you cannot have more than $2,000 in cash or liquid assets – the value of your home and car typically don’t count toward this cap.

SSI is provided based on the individual’s need and can’t exceed a certain monthly benefit rate cap set up by the federal government, called the federal benefit rate. States, however, can add additional money to SSI payments to help their residents in areas where the cost of living is higher than the average.

A new application for SSI benefits can take up to six months, so people who are eligible should apply as soon as possible. If you receive a denial of your application and subsequently file an appeal, it can take up to a year or more for your appeal to be heard. Thankfully, if you apply and are approved for SSI benefits, you’ll be paid retroactively to the date of the application itself.

Individuals who qualify for SSI are automatically eligible for medical insurance coverage through Medicaid, which is a state-run program.

If you use SSI lawyers, ask them about your options for other government programs such as Medicaid. Your SSI lawyer should be able to help you understand these other potential benefits and point you in the right direction for applying to any new services.

SSI Payments and Benefits

Effective January of this year, the Supplemental Security Income monthly federal benefit rate increased by 1.5% to reach $721 per month for an individual and $1,082 for an eligible couple.

If you’re looking at information provided by the Social Security Administration, you’ll often see something called the “unrounded annual amounts” for a given year. This amount is actually a little higher than the federal government will pay you each year. The SSA takes these annual numbers and divides them by 12; they then round down to the dollar and that’s the maximum amount you will receive each month.

The amount you are paid each month can go above these federal caps if your state or the territory you live in adds a supplement on top of the SSI benefit. Check out these charts below to see where your state falls, according to the SSA.

Since SSI is a needs-based program, your monthly benefit may be reduced by any other income your receive. You may want to speak to an SSI lawyer to figure out how any income you receive may affect your SSI benefits, and if it will reduce your monthly payments. Income that may reduce how much you are paid through SSI includes:

  • Earned Income – This includes wages, royalties paid, honoraria and any net income you make when self-employed.
  • Unearned Income – This is money you don’t earn (currently work for) including your pensions, other state disability payments, unemployment, Social Security benefits or cash you receive on a monthly basis.
  • In-Kind Income – This is food or shelter you get for free or at a significantly reduced cost. If you’re given free rent, this may count as in-kind income.
  • Deemed Income – This is income from your spouse, parents or the people you live with. Here you should speak with an SSI lawyer so you can understand exactly what’s counted and how it is counted.
What Is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (also called SSDI) is a disability program that’s funded through your payroll taxes. SSDI requires that you’ve worked for a certain number of years and made contributions to the Social Security trust fund. You also must be under the age of 65 to receive SSDI.

To get an SSDI benefit, you need to be disabled and unable to work for at least 12 months. There is a five month waiting period before SSDI benefits are paid; thus, SSDI benefits are first paid starting in the six month of your disability. This program will pay you retroactively for up to one year prior to filing your application for SSDI benefits. This means that your benefits will begin either five months from the date you claim your disability began, or one year prior to filing your application, whichever is more recent.

The amount of the monthly benefit is based upon your past earnings, similar to the Social Security retirement benefit. Also like Social Security retirement benefits, your SSDI benefits may be paid to dependent children, widow or widower. If you’ve been disabled since you’ve been a child and haven’t worked, you may also be able to get SSDI benefits off of a parent’s earnings record.

Recipients of SSDI benefits are automatically eligible for Medicare two years after they start receiving SSDI benefits.

Getting your SSDI benefits can be very fast if you have a serious disability or medical condition that is listed on the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Conditions list. Examples of compassionate allowance conditions include: certain acute cancers, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and heart transplant wait list.

What Are Work Requirements for SSDI?

To get SSDI benefits you’ll need to have worked enough during the years prior to your injury or disability to have sufficiently paid into the system. The SSA calculates this based on “credits,” where for 2014, one credit equals roughly $1,200. You can get a maximum of 4 credits each year, no matter which month the earnings are received. There are also requirements for when you’ve worked and how long.

The “Work Test” used by the SSDI has a set number of credits you must have earned and they need to be from within a certain time frame. To be disability-insured for the SSDI program you must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled. This is the equivalent ofworking 5 out of the last 10 years. However, younger individuals may qualify with less credits.

To calculate the total number of years you must have worked to earn enough credits to qualify for SSDI benefits divide the number of credits you need by four, and you will get how many years you need to work. Multiply the years by 2 and you’ll know how recently you will have needed to earn those credits.

For example, let’s use the chart above to see what a 50 year-old person would need to qualify for SSDI.

  • Using the chart we find that you need 28 credits.
  • Divide this by 4 and you know that you need to have worked for a total of 7 years.
  • Multiply this by 2 and now we find that you will have needed to work 7 out of the past 14 years to qualify for SSDI.

If you don’t meet the SSDI work requirements, you’ll likely be told to apply for SSI.

The Differences Between Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance

There are a lot of similarities between SSI and SSDI, plus a lot of overlap between the two disability programs. We’ve put together these great charts to help compare the two, but recommend speaking to an attorney about which may be the best for you to apply.

Getting SSI and SSDI Together

Some people may qualify for both SSI and SSDI benefits, and they get the payments concurrently.

People qualify for both typically when they are low-income and first qualify for SSDI, but only receive a low monthly payment. A low SSDI monthly benefit rate may be caused by earning low wages or having a sporadic work history in recent years.

If your unearned income (SSDI benefit) is less than $720 each month and you have few assets, you may qualify for an additional SSI payment. The actual amount you receive may differ slightly depending on your state. The SSI benefit you can receive will just be enough to get you to the minimum $721 payment amount provided by SSI.

Unless you tell them not to, the Social Security office will automatically look to see if you qualify for both SSDI and SSI when you apply for one or both of the programs. The processing of the disability portion of these claims are handled the exact same way, so after the initial filing of the applications the claims move through the decision making process the same way.

One additional benefit of filing concurrent claims is that you will receive Medicaid coverage through SSI automatically upon approval of your claim. You can receive health coverage through that program while you would otherwise wait 2 years to be Medicare eligible through the SSDI program.

Things to Know about SSI and SSD Lawyers

Everyone making a claim for Social Security benefits through the SSDI and SSI programs has the right to have an attorney or other representative when they’re making a claim. This is because you have the right under Titles II, XVI and XVIII of the Social Security Act. Your SSD lawyer will be able to help you with many different types of claims.

An SSDI lawyer may make your claim process go much smoother since, beginning March 2012, the SSA began requiring some forms to be filed online. Online claim filing has benefits such as instant acknowledgement that the SSA has received your application or appeal and the likelihood that there are fewer errors in filing your claim. An SSDI lawyer can also electronically submit medical evidence on your behalf, receiving confirmation that your evidence has been received by the agency who will review your records, and minimizing mistakes.

While any attorney may be able to represent you in a SSDI/SSI claim, it is important to hire an attorney who is experienced in dealing with SSA. Make sure any lawyer you use knows:

  • You must be the person to sign all application documents, even with electronic signatures. Attorneys cannot sign the Internet Social Security Benefit Application (for SSDI) or the Application for SSI benefits, because you must confirm that the form and all information on it are accurate.
  • You must provide a written statement for the lawyer to serve as your official representative. The SSA provides a specific form to help you do this properly. Your lawyer can provide you with the form and explain it to you.
  • The Social Security Administration must approve any fee that a lawyer wants to charge for his or her services. This means that the fee agreement you sign will be submitted to SSA for approval.

Your local Social Security office may be able to give you a list of legal referral services and non-profit organizations that provide assistance in filing SSDI and SSI claims and appeals.

SSDI lawyers and SSI lawyers are also a big benefit . These appeals are moving more and more to online forms that may be confusing and have different legal requirements. If your application is denied, there are resources online to guide you in how to proceed, but your attorney can represent you through this entire process.