The Difference Between Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income

supplemental security income

For Americans with disabilities, paying bills can be difficult. Social Security disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs provide the largest amount of income aid to those with disabilities. However, these programs do not provide benefits to those with short-term disabilities.



How Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits Work

Americans who pay Social Security (also called FICA) taxes can apply for SSD benefits. If approved, the SSA pays SSD benefits every month. Family members may also potentially receive SSD benefits.

To qualify for SSDI payments, the Social Security Administration must approve your claim. The first step is proving that you’re too disabled to work for at least 12 months in a row. The SSA’s definition of “disabled” states you must not be able to perform work that could be done before your diagnosis, adjust to other work due to medical conditions or the disability is expected to last for more than one year or result in death. Short-term disabilities are largely not counted as part of this definition, and the SSA assumes that working families will have other sources of income to support themselves such as workers’ compensation, health insurance, savings or investments. If you haven’t worked 5 in the last 10 years full-time, then your SSD insurance policy lapses and you won’t qualify for SSDI benefits.

Getting Health Insurance Benefits After SSD Approval

After receiving Social Security disability payments for two years, you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare health coverage. Medicare Part A costs nothing and covers inpatient and follow-up care. However, you’ll have monthly premiums deducted from your SSD benefits for Medicare Part B coverage. Medicare Part B covers your doctor’s visits, medical services, and outpatient hospital care costs.

When to Expect Your First SSD Payment

Once the SSA approves your disability claim, you’ll start receiving payments during the sixth month. So if your disability starts on May 1 and you apply for SSDI on July 1, the soonest you’ll get paid benefits is November 30. Your monthly payment amount depends on your lifetime average earnings and how much you’ve paid in FICA taxes.

Those applying for Social Security disability must meet certain eligibility requirements. Applicants must submit convincing medical evidence that proves they’re too disabled to work for at least one year. The SSA may automatically approve applicants with impairments on the Compassionate Allowances List (CAL list). This CAL list features many terminal illnesses and rare, but debilitating ailments, like pancreatic cancer or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. However, not all disabilities are so easy to prove. If yours isn’t on this list, it can be much harder to get your benefits application approved.

How Supplemental Security Income Works

Unlike SSDI, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) helps the lowest-income blind, disabled or aged claimants. Supplemental Security Income helps pay for basic necessities, like food, clothing and shelter. Social Security tax contributions don’t pay for the SSI program’s benefits. Instead, SSI uses money from the general tax revenues to pay for benefits.

How to Qualify for Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income applicants must reside in the U.S. to qualify for benefits. Eligible claimants must be at least 65 years old, blind or disabled. You must earn no more than $750/month and own less than $2,000 in assets to qualify for Supplemental Security Income payments. Payment is based on financial need. When applying for Supplemental Security Income benefits, you’ll have to meet the same medical requirements as SSDI.

How the Supplemental Security Income Program Can Help You Gain Financial Independence

Some people who qualify for Supplemental Security Income want to find a way to support themselves financially. Once SSI helps them get back on their feet financially, some may wish to return to the workforce. Supplemental Security Income offers program incentives to help Americans find employment while receiving benefits. This includes continual Medicaid acceptance, even after Supplemental Security Income payments end. You can keep getting Supplemental Security Income after starting a new job, in some cases. In fact, the SSA won’t count every bit of income if you follow program rules. Disabled and blind beneficiaries may also receive payments for traveling to and from work, out-of-pocket costs for work-related expenses and more. For example, special SSI-friendly savings plans let Supplemental Security Income recipients put aside some money each month.

You May Qualify for Legal Assistance

Connecting to a legal representative may be beneficial when applying for either SSDI or SSI. A disability advocate or attorney can help you with collecting proper medical documentation, deal with the SSA on your behalf, and if necessary appeal a denied claim.

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