Slepian Smith, PLLC

What is the difference between SSDI and SSI?

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, known respectively as SSDI and SSI, are benefit programs based on disability and administered by the federal Social Security Administration. The two programs, however, differ in terms of eligibility based on financial condition and work history, while sharing important aspects of eligibility based on disability.

Main differences

SSDI is similar to Social Security retirement benefits with which most people are familiar in that they are both based on a person's work history. SSDI is basically public disability insurance that pays monthly cash benefits to eligible claimants who can no longer work. To reach insured status, a claimant must have worked long enough and recently enough according to program requirements. SSDI is paid to adults who have not reached full retirement age as defined by Social Security law and who meet other eligibility requirements.

To be eligible for SSI, a claimant must have limited income and assets, which can be a complex question under applicable law. SSI may be an option for people who did not earn enough work credits for SSDI (or retirement benefits). A person may be eligible for SSI if age 65 or older, blind or disabled. (SSI benefits are also available for certain disabled children.)

Definition of disability

To be disabled for purposes of SSDI or SSI, the claimant must have a severe physical or mental medical condition that is expected either to last continuously for a year or to result in death. Neither program provides benefits for short-term or partial disability. Instead, the claimant must meet the federal definition of disability.

The impairment (or impairments in combination if more than one) must prevent the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity, known as SGA. SGA is based on monthly earnings, which must be quite low. SGA limits increase yearly and vary depending on whether disability is based on blindness or another condition. (SGA for blind claimants does not apply to SSI.)

This is a high-level look at SSDI and SSI eligibility. We will continue to discuss these programs in detail in this space.

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