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Social Security Disability vs. Supplemental Security Income

Posted in Social Security Key Terms

At our law firm we are frequently asked – what is the difference between Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income? These two terms are often used and discussed interchangeably; however, there are important differences between the two programs.

Defining SSD & SSI:

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a FICA tax-funded, Federal insurance benefits program. To be eligible for SSD benefits, you must be unable to hold a job due to severe medical impairments (physical or mental), and you must have been actively employed and paying Social Security taxes long enough to obtain insured status under the SSD program.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a need-based program that pays supplemental income to qualfied disabled applicants regardless of whether they have ever worked and paid Social Security taxes.  To be eligible for SSI benefits, applicants must have a severe mental or physical impairment that makes them unable to perform a job.  Applicants must also have a family income that is below the level established by the Social Security Administration for SSI eligibility.

Similarities between SSD & SSI:

  • Both programs pay monthly benefits to applicants
  • Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration
  • Both programs require the same medical standards in order to be disabled for applicants age 18 or older

Differences between SSD & SSI:

  • Social Security Disability benefits are based on your earning history.  When you apply for SSD benefit, the Social Security Administration will provide you with specific information about what your monthly benefit amount would be.
  • Supplemental Security Income is not based on your past earnings. The monthly benefit amount is established by government regulations.  Personal income and the income of family members may be taken into account in establishing the amount of monthly SSI that will be paid.