Three Big Differences Between SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are both federal programs that provide cash payments to people who meet the federal definition of “disabled.”  But the similarities between the two programs end there.  Here are the three main differences between them.

SSI Is a Means-Tested Program, SSDI Is an Entitlement Program

Although both SSI and SSDI are administered by the Social Security Administration, the two programs have vastly different financial requirements.  SSI is designed to meet the basic needs of elderly, blind and disabled individuals who would otherwise have a hard time paying for food and shelter.  Because SSI is narrowly tailored for this particular set of people, it has a very strict set of financial requirements, making it what is known as a “means-tested” benefit.

SSDI, by contrast, is an entitlement program that is typically available to any person who has paid into the Social Security system for at least ten years, regardless of his current income and assets.  (Younger beneficiaries and disabled adult children of retired or deceased workers may have to meet different requirements.)  In theory, all qualified workers are potential SSDI recipients, even high-income earners.

SSI Beneficiaries Typically Receive Medicaid, SSDI Provides Access to Medicare

In most cases, a person who receives SSI immediately qualifies for Medicaid benefits.  Because Medicaid is a joint state and federal health care program that typically provides very comprehensive coverage for its beneficiaries, many people may apply for SSI primarily because of the health care that comes with it.

On the other hand, SSDI beneficiaries are eligible to receive Medicare two years after they are deemed eligible for SSDI benefits.  Medicare is a federal health insurance program that covers routine hospital services and most but not all primary medical care.  Medicare is not as comprehensive as Medicaid, and many Medicare beneficiaries purchase what are known as private “Medigap” policies to fill in the holes in their primary Medicare coverage.

The Financial Benefits Can Be Very Different

Finally, SSI and SSDI benefits vary widely when it comes to the amount of money provided.  In 2018, the federal SSI payment standard will be $750 per month for an individual (with most states adding a small supplementary payment), while the average SSDI payment for 2017 is $1,171 a month.  Since SSDI is based on the beneficiary’s earnings record, some SSDI recipients can receive much more than this.  In addition, SSI benefits are reduced by any other income received by an SSI beneficiary, so many SSI recipients will receive less than the $750 payment standard.  In most cases, if a person receives an SSDI benefit that is higher than the maximum SSI payment, she won’t be eligible for SSI at all.

Senate Bill Proposes Changes to SSI Program

The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014 was introduced recently in the U.S. Senate by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). This legislation would update rules such as one that recognizes the value of past work by disregarding the first $20 of Social Security Retirement or other monthly income when determining SSI eligibility, a rule that hasn’t been updated in more than 40 years.  The SSI Restoration Act will increase the disregard to $110 to account for inflation.  The bill also increases the amount of resources an SSI recipient can retain from $2,000 to $10,000.  The bill also eliminates the provision that reduces the monthly benefit whenever someone receives food or housing for less than fair market value from another person, including family members.

SSI provides subsistence-level income to two million older adults with very limited financial resources who are either age 65 or over or cannot perform substantial work because of a severe disability. More than two thirds of older adults receiving SSI payments are women and one out of every three applying for the program has a primary language other than English.

Increase In Social Security Disability Benefits For 2014

Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a cost of living adjustment of 1.5% for 2014.  As a result, monthly benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will rise next year.

With the increase, the maximum federal benefit for an individual receiving SSI will rise from $710 per month to $721. The benefit for a couple on SSI will grow from $1,066 per month to $1,082. Many states add to SSI benefits for their residents meaning that actual payments could exceed these caps.  Massachusetts is one of the States that adds a supplemental benefit.