Part 1: Social Security Disability Program Differences

Social Security Disability Program Differences

There are many differences between Social Security disability programs provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Disabled Americans can apply for two types of Social Security programs: Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While sharing numerous similarities, they also have key Social Security disability program differences to consider before you apply for benefits. Working with a Social Security attorney who is experienced in securing Social Security disability benefits for clients can help you understand which program is more applicable to you, and the attorney may also provide needed legal aid so you have a higher chance of securing benefits.

Here are some fundamental differences between the two programs:

Social Security Disability Program Differences: Objectives and Beneficiary Requirements

SSDI and SSI are different to their core and were designed with a certain group’s needs in mind.

According to the SSA, the Social Security disability program “pays benefits to you and certain family members if you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.” According to former SSA employee Cassie Schmelz, SSDI is meant for people who worked before becoming disabled and paid enough in taxes to be “insured.” In essence, Social Security disability is an earned benefit, and is only open to those whose impairments are expected to last 12 months or to death. The SSA uses two earnings tests – recent work and duration of work – to determine if applicants can receive payments through the program. According to the SSA, some blind workers are exempt from the recent work test and only need to take part in the duration of work test.

Social Security Disability Program Differences: Financial Asset & Income Limitations

The SSI program, however, is meant for lower-income disabled Americans and does not require prior work. The SSI program “is designed to help aged, blind and disabled people, who have little or no income” and “provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.” Americans who are 65 and older and are without a disabling medical condition can receive SSI benefits if they meet the financial limits. This openness to outside the disability area is a key distinction between the two programs. There is also an income reporting aspect to the SSI program, and recipients or representatives of SSI claimants need to follow detailed instructions for income reporting.

Social Security Disability Program Differences: Payments Available To Family Members

Similar to Social Security retirement benefits, SSDI payments can be made to disabled Americans’ widowed spouses and nonworking adults who have been disabled since childhood, according to a Q&A with Stan Hinden, a former columnist for The Washington Post, for AARP. Schmelz notes SSDI benefits are open to claimants’ dependents.

“If you’ve paid in enough, children under 18, adult disabled children and even some spouses, may be able to get a check,” Schmelz wrote.

To receive benefits, the SSA requires spouses to be 62 years of age and older. If spouses take care of the beneficiaries’ child, who is younger than 16 years of age or disabled, age doesn’t matter to receive payments.

In contrast, dependents don’t receive payments under SSI, as only disabled claimants collect SSI benefits, according to Schmelz.

Social Security Disability Program Differences: Medical Insurance Types

Those who receive SSDI benefits after two years often become eligible for Medicare, according to Schmelz, while SSI recipients receive Medicaid. This distinction makes sense, as those with lower earnings tend to be eligible for Medicaid.

Despite these Social Security disability program differences, no matter which you apply for, the SSA still requires information about your medical condition, education and work history. The SSA determines eligibility through the same process, and so requires the same information regardless of the many Social Security disability program differences.

To continue on to Part 2 of this series and to learn more about disability benefits, click here.

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