Both SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are benefits programs for the disabled and both are managed by the Social Security Administration.  But the eligibility requirements for each program are very different.  One of the main differences is that SSDI is available only to workers who have earned enough work credits with Social Security. SSI disability benefits, on the other hand, are available to low-income people who have not earned enough work credits.

Social Security Disability Insurance or SSI

SSDI is funded through your payroll taxes.  Therefore, to be eligible for SSDI it is required that you have built up sufficient “work credits.” This depends on your age and when you become disabled. To be eligible, you must have also worked some part of five of the ten years prior to becoming disabled. Finally, you must be younger than 65, but older than 18.

There is a five-month waiting period to receive SSDI benefits.  This means that the Social Security Administration will not pay benefits for the first five months you are disabled. The amount of your monthly benefit when the waiting period ends depends on your record of earnings, just like Social Security retirement benefits.  Under SSDI, the spouse and dependent children of the disabled person are eligible to receive partial benefits.

If your application for disability benefits is approved, the amount of your cash payment will be determined by your personal earnings record. Average payments range from $700 to $1,400 a month.  After collecting disability benefits for 24 months, you automatically become eligible for Medicare regardless of your age.

Supplemental Security Income

SSI is strictly a need-based program that does not take into account your work history. You must have less than $2,000 in assets (or $3,000 for a couple) and a very limited income to be qualified for SSI.  When determining income, the Social Security Administration considers many different sources.  The first $20 of most income received in a month is considered income, as well as the first $65 of earnings and one–half of earnings over $65 received in a month.  The cash value of food stamps you receive are income, as well as grants, scholarships, etc., used for tuition and educational expenses; and income tax refunds. A more complete list can be found on the SSA’s website.

Eligibility for SSI, as well as the amount of benefits you may receive, depend on the requirements and guidelines in your state. However, for federal Social Security purposes, you must meet all four of the following criteria:

  • You must be blind, disabled, or age 65 or over
  • You must be either a citizen of the United States, or meet other very narrow requirements
  • Your monthly income must be below a certain level, and
  • The property you own must be worth less than $2,000 for an individual, or $3,000 for a couple.

As of 2013, if your application is approved, your minimum SSI benefits will be $710 per month for an individual or $1,066 per month for a couple.