The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two programs to financially assist people with disabilities. These federal programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are defined by two different sets of eligibility criteria. If you have few resources and limited income but have worked and paid into Social Security in the past, you could get help from both programs.
SSA Screens Applicants for SSI and SSDI Eligibility
SSA must first determine if you qualify for one or both federal disability programs based on your personal income, resources and your work history. Then SSA examines your medical condition to determine if it meets SSA’s definition of a disability before eligibility for either program is considered.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program. Eligibility for benefits is determined by what resources and income you have and where and how you live.
Personal resources cannot be worth more than $2,000 if single and $3,000 if married. Your countable income is calculated from earned and unearned sources and your living arrangement. If your income level is low enough to meet SSA’s eligibility requirements you could get up to $721 as an individual. Eligible couples receive up to $1,082. The more countable income you have the lower your SSI payment will be.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is based on work-history earnings. You must have paid into Social Security through FICA taxes. FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes are payroll taxes that are used to fund Social Security and Medicare. You also must have a recent-enough work history.
If you worked 15 years ago, and then stopped, you would not qualify for SSDI. If you are 31 years of age or older, you must have earned five-years-worth (20 quarters) of work credits within the last 10 years to qualify for SSDI. Your cash benefit is calculated from your earnings history. It is the same formula used to calculate Social Security retirement benefits.
Countable Income Affects Your Combined Cash Benefit
Some may think that if they qualify for the maximum benefit for SSI, and also qualify for an SSDI benefit, that they can then get both maximum amounts each month. This is not the case. Combined benefits could give you just a few dollars extra than if you received one or the other. This is because your SSI benefit is based on need and your SSDI benefit will increase your countable income, reducing your “need” and SSI amount.
Let’s assume that you qualify for both SSI and SSDI benefits. Your SSDI disability benefit is calculated from your work history earnings record and is considered unearned income. If this represents your total income (you have no other income sources) SSA will subtract $20 and the difference becomes your countable income. Then SSA subtracts your countable income from the SSI federal benefit rate ($721 for an individual). The difference between the two becomes your SSI cash benefit.
Here is an example:
Start $500 Your SSDI monthly cash benefit
Less $20 Not counted
Equals: $480 Countable income
Start $721 SSI federal benefit rate
Less $480 Countable income (see above)
Equals $241 SSI Benefit
Your total monthly cash benefit is $500 (SSDI) plus $241 (SSI), or $741.
Your total cash benefit is NOT $500 (SSDI) plus $721 (maximum SSI benefit) equals $1,221.
The thing to remember is that your SSI monthly benefit is not a locked-in amount. The federal base amount cannot go above $721 for an individual; $1,082 for a couple, but if your total income increases in any month from earned or unearned sources, your SSI benefit amount will be reduced. Your SSDI cash benefit will never change no matter what other income sources come your way, excluding public insurance benefits such as Worker’s Compensation.
What to Expect When You Receive Both SSI and SSDI
SSI cash benefits fluctuate with your countable income. You will undergo periodic financial reviews of your income and resources to evaluate how much in SSI benefits you can receive each month. Your income level may also disqualify you from receiving Medicaid.
Unlike SSI, your SSDI benefits do not change if your income changes. You can count on your SSDI benefit for as long as you need it. SSA requires periodic reviews of your medical condition and your ability to work but they are months to years in frequency, depending on the severity of your medical condition. Your SSDI benefit will not increase if your disability worsens, but it remains constant regardless of other income sources, excluding public insurance benefits. Two years after receiving SSDI you will be eligible for Medicare.
Get Help Applying for SSI or SSDI
The eligibility rules for SSI and SSDI are very complex. If you need help applying for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, a Freedom Disability Advocate can evaluate your case and provide the help you need. Contact us at (800) 298-6885.