What’s the Difference Between SSD and SSI?

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.

March 7, 2021

The History of Disability Under the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Act was signed into law by FDR on August 14, 1935. The Act, at that time, provided benefits to retirees, the unemployed, and it provided a lump sum payment at death.

Much of the conceptual work for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSD”) took place in the 1930′s and early 1940′s. Final passage of SSD did not occur, however, until 1956. At this time, SSD only paid benefits to workers who were fifty years of age or older. It only accounted for individuals with physical impairments, essentially barring claims for mental impairments such as anxiety and depression. The Act defined disability as “an impairment of mind or body which continuously renders it impossible for the disabled person to follow any substantial gainful occupation,” and was likely to last for “the rest of a person’s life.” This definition has changed over the years, but the basic tenants of the program remain the same.

Supplemental Security Income, (“SSI”) did not come about for almost another 15 years. As part of a discussion of welfare reform President Richard Nixon initiated the program in 1969. The initial thought was that the SSI program would apply mainly to the elderly. The writers believed that the benefit would go to folks already receiving benefits under the SSD program, but found that these benefits were not enough to bring them out of poverty. These assumptions proved wrong as now a majority of individuals on SSI are children and adults under the age of 50.

What is SSD?

Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSD”) is a program administered by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). The goal of the program is to provide a disability benefit to eligible individuals when they are no longer able to work.

The primary beneficiary of this program is an individual who has worked on a regular basis, at a job covered by the SSA, and who through a physical or mental impairment is no longer able to participate in the workforce (they are disabled). Finally, your condition must meet the durational requirements, meaning that it has lasted or is expected to last twelve consecutive months.

It’s easy to think of SSD as any other type of insurance. Once you accumulate enough work credits, which is done by working, you are covered by this insurance policy. If you become ill or injured, the policy is there to provide you a safety net by giving you, not only a monthly income stream, but also health insurance through Medicare. Also, just like car insurance, if you fail to purchase it (by working) or fail to pay the premiums (by continuing to work) you will not receive or will ultimately loose coverage under the program. In the case of SSD, if you have not worked and thus have not accumulated enough work credits or if it has been so long since you have worked, then you won’t be insured by the program and cannot receive benefits under it regardless of your physical or mental condition.

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is also a program that is administered by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). The goal of this program is essentially the same as the goal of the SSD program, to provide a benefit to eligible individuals when they are no longer able to work.

The beneficiary of this program is not limited to just an individual who is disabled, the blind or elderly who have limited income and limited resources are also eligible. About 75% of the individuals on SSI are disabled though. The remaining 25% use it as a supplement to their normal social security retirement benefit. This paper and this website are geared toward those individuals that are seeking the benefit due to a disability. Thus, I will often refer to SSI as just a program for the disabled. The durational requirements for SSI are also similar to that of SSD, your condition needs to have lasted or be expected to last twelve consecutive months.

SSI is a needs-based program. A general rule is that if you qualify for food stamps, you are likely to be eligible for benefits under this program. If you become ill or injured, the policy is there to provide you a safety net by giving you not only a monthly income stream, but this program also provides you with health insurance through Medicaid. One class of beneficiaries under this program are those who did not accumulate enough work credits to qualify for SSD. Another class of beneficiaries are those who do qualify for SSD, but their lifetime contributions into the program make it such that their SSD benefits is not enough to lift the beneficiary out of poverty. This is the only benefit available through the SSA if an individual does not qualify for SSD. In the second instance, this will likely be a benefit that is added to the SSD benefit in order to total an amount high enough to lift the beneficiary out of the poverty level.

What’s the Difference Between SSD and SSI?

There are two types of disability benefits administered by the SSA, SSD and SSI. Both SSD and SSI provide the beneficiary with a monthly income stream in addition to health insurance, if they meet the definition of disability and satisfy the non-medical qualifications of the respective program.

SSD vs. SSI Comparison

SSDSSI
Administered By:SSASSA
Financial BenefitMonthly income stream dependent on contributions to the program. Usually a greater benefit than SSIMonthly income stream dependent on financial need. Sometimes alone, but often in addition to a smaller SSD benefit
Medical InsuranceMedicareMedicaid
Non-Medical RequirementsAccumulation of work creditsResource limits of $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple
Medical RequirementsSSA’s definition of disabledSSA’s definition of disabled or financial need at retirement age
Back Pay Begins on the Most Recent Date of Disability or;12 months prior to date of filing your application (17 months less 5 months waiting period)Date you filed application
Waiting Period5 months after date you became disabledNone
Benefit Reduced for Working During Period of DisabilityAs long as working under SGA, no reduction in benefit. Assets have no impact on benefitBenefit reduced if income or assets are obtained

The programs are so similar that your lawyer might not even differentiate between the two programs when discussing your case with you as the definitions of disability for both programs are identical. A disability applicant’s claim for SSD and SSI are so similar that they are actually grouped into one application and are decided at the same time by the same decisionmaker. The decisionmaker assigned to your case goes through the same five-step process to determine whether or not you satisfy the SSA’s definition of disability. In fact, about 40% of our clients qualify for benefits under both programs.

The main differences are found in the non-medical eligibility requirements.

Difference Between SSD and SSI

SSD benefits are available only to those who have paid into the system, generally through payroll taxes paid through a job covered by the SSA. After accumulating enough work credits, an individual becomes ‘insured’ under the SSD program. Conversely, there is no working requirement for the SSI program. SSI benefits go to those who have limited income and assets and have a financial ‘need’ for those benefits.

Do I Qualify for SSD Benefits?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

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