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SSI Versus SSDI: Two Distinct Programs for Disability


Many people use the terms “SSI” and “SSDI” interchangeably but, though there are some common elements, they are not the same. The acronyms stand for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance, respectively; both are managed by the Social Security Administration and refer to the benefits qualifying individuals may receive due to disability. Plus, the factors for determining eligibility for disability benefits are the same. You should rely on an experienced SSI/SSDI attorney to help you understand your options, but it should also be useful to review the details of these programs and the key differences.

SSI and SSDI Explained 

SSI is an assistance program that assesses income and assets in determining eligibility for benefits. The program is need-based, so it does not consider work history as a qualifying factor. The sole consideration, after approving eligibility for disability, is the individual’s financial need. A person who earns a limited income and owns less than $2,000 may qualify. Once an individual meets the strict eligibility rules for SSI, he or she can also receive Medicaid, food stamps, and other benefits under federal and Maryland law.

SSDI is a disability program where a person draws benefits from payroll and FICA Social Security taxes. An affected individual is considered insured under SSDI because he or she has earned work credits after contributing to the Social Security trust fund for a designated number of years.

Key Distinctions Between SSI and SSDI 

With this general overview of SSI and SSDI in mind, it is easier to understand the differences between the two programs:

  • SSI = Means Tested; SSDI = Entitlement: SSI is intended to help support disabled and elderly individuals who cannot pay for their basic needs without assistance. The program is “means tested” because eligibility depends upon strict requirements regarding the person’s needs versus means. SSDI is considered an entitlement program because the benefits are available to anyone who has paid into Social Security for a designated number of years. Assets and income are not qualifying factors.
  • Economic Benefits Vary: SSDI is determined by how much a person pays into Social Security, so the benefits for an eligible beneficiary with a long work history may be much higher than SSI. In addition, the benefit amounts a person can receive for SSI may be reduced if the beneficiary earns income through any other source. Though it is possible to qualify under both programs, an individual may not receive any SSI benefits if the SSDI amount is higher.
  • Medicaid Versus Medicare: A person who qualifies for SSI will automatically be eligible for Medicaid to cover a wide range of hospital and primary medical care services. SSDI beneficiaries cannot take advantage of Medicare benefits until two years after they qualify. Medicare does not provide the comprehensive medical coverage as Medicaid.

Discuss SSI and SSDI with a Knowledgeable Lawyer 

This summary on the differences between SSI and SSDI provides general information, so it is important to consult with a skilled supplemental security income lawyer about your options. Our SSI/SSDI legal team at Steinhardt, Siskind and Lieberman, LLC can tell you more about eligibility and benefits after reviewing your circumstances, so please contact us today to schedule a consultation. We have multiple law offices in Maryland, including Glen Burnie, Owings Mills, Ellicott City, and Annapolis.

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