Part 2: Differences Between the Two Social Security Disability Programs

disability programs

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) two programs for disabled Americans have numerous differences, despite their many similarities. Both the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program require much of the same information, and those considering applying for either program should gather all information as soon as possible to begin the claims process. However, learning about the disparities between the two disability programs can inform applicants about which program best fits their needs.

In the first half of the series, applicants learned about some of the most important differences between the two disability programs. Here are three additional distinctions between SSDI and SSI:

How Benefits Are Calculated In Both Disability Programs

One fundamental difference of the two programs is how payments are determined. According to the SSA, Social Security disability applicants’ medical information as well as their employment records and education histories are used to determine their average lifetime earnings. In essence, the SSA takes the applicant’s Social Security earnings record into account when deciding his or her payment amount under Social Security disability. According to an article by former SSA employee Cassie Schmelz for Yahoo, “the more you’ve worked and paid in via taxes, the higher your amount will be.”

The SSI program is very different. The SSI program is for lower-income Americans and isn’t linked to applicants’ employment histories, and it can be a complex process determining benefit amounts. There is a maximum federal beneficial rate, but the SSA says certain states provide further payments.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for The Washington Post, wrote in an article for AARP that payment amounts differ from state to state and the SSA considers all of the applicant’s “resources” before determining benefits. The SSA states these resources can be anything from personal property, bank accounts and savings bonds, cash and life insurance. According to the SSA, anything the applicant owns that could be sold or “changed to cash and used for food or shelter” can be determined a resource. Hinden writes if assets are greater than $2,000 for one applicant or $3,000 for couples, applicants are not eligible for benefits. Hinden noted homes and one car are often not counted toward resources.

Receipt of Payments Differs Among Disability Programs

When applicants receive benefits also differs.

There is a certain amount of time between Social Security disability applicants being found eligible and actually receiving payments. Social Security disability benefits aren’t paid until “the full sixth month after the date your disability began,” according to the SSA. This means if a claimant’s disability began on Jan. 15, his or her first payment won’t be until July. Payments are also made for the month following the month – so July benefits are provided in August, and so forth. In addition, Social Security disability payments are sent according to the claimant’s birthday, according to Schmelz, with most beneficiaries receiving payments on the second, third or fourth Wednesdays of the month.

In contrast, Schmelz says SSI beneficiaries receive their checks on the first day of each month.

Differing Histories for Both Disability Programs

The two programs are so diverse from each other because they were established at different times. In a 2000 statement, Edward Berkowitz, who was chair of the department of history at George Washington University at the time, wrote Social Security disability was created in July 1956 after much discussion in Congress, while SSI didn’t come into existence until 1975. SSI developed out of discussions about welfare reform in 1969. According to Hinden, these are important distinctions between the two disability programs and why they look how they do today.

For those thinking about applying for the SSDI program, beginning the application process with the help of an experienced Social Security attorney may increase their approval chances. Wait times are lengthy and appealing a denial may prolong your wait for payments.

To read Part 1 of this series and learn about the main differences between SSDI and SSI disability programs, click here.

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