Comparing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits


The Social Security Administration (SSA) makes disability payments under two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs share the same medical requirements. That is, if you meet Social Security’s definition of disability under SSDI then you also meet the definition of disability under SSI. The programs, however, have different non-medical requirements and different payment features.


This article compares SSDI and SSI benefits so that you understand the difference between both and can determine whether you qualify for disability benefits under one, or both, programs. If you have any questions about applying for Social Security benefits, or are seeking legal representation at a disability hearing before an administrative law judge, contact Richmond disability lawyer and Virginia Beach Social Security attorney Corey Pollard for a free consultation: 804-251-1620 or 757-810-5614.


Understanding the Differences Between SSDI (Title 2 Benefits) and SSI (Title 16 Benefits)


We have listed common issues that arise in claims for Social Security disability benefits and explained how the SSDI and SSI programs treat them:


Do you need to have paid Social Security taxes to receive benefits?


If you have worked in the past five years, you likely had FICA taxes deducted from your wages. These taxes help fund SSDI benefits.


SSDI: You must have paid Social Security taxes to qualify for SSDI.


SSI: You can qualify for SSI without paying taxes or working.


Does the disability program provide benefits for children under the age of 18?


SSDI: Only adult children who are at least 18 years of age and who are found disabled before the age of 22 are entitled to disability benefits under the SSDI program. For example, individuals between the ages of 18 and 22 may qualify for SSDI benefits if they have a learning disability, intellectual disability, or if they sustained serious injuries in a traumatic event or were diagnosed with a chronic disease during the applicable period.


SSI: Children are able to receive disability benefits under the SSI program, so long as their parents satisfy the income and asset requirements.


Do I need to prove that I’ve been disabled for a specific period?


SSDI: Yes. Your disability must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 continuous months to receive benefits.


SSI: Yes. The duration of disability requirement for SSI benefits is the same as for SSDI benefits: 12 months.


Do monthly cash payments begin as of the date I am found disabled by the Social Security Administration?


SSDI: No. There is a five month waiting period before benefits start.


SSI: Yes. There is no waiting period. Back pay begins to accrue as of the first month you are found disabled.


Do you receive health insurance if you are found entitled to disability benefits?


SSDI: Yes. You become eligible for Medicare 24 months after the waiting period expires. This means that you will be able to receive health care through Medicare roughly 29 months after the date you are found first disabled.


SSI: Yes. Medicaid starts immediately in many states.


Can you receive presumptive disability benefits before you are approved officially and receive an award letter?


SSDI: No. You will not receive disability payments until your claim is approved by the SSA.


SSI: Yes, though it is not common. You may be eligible for disability benefits up to six months before the decision. You do not have to refund the payments if you are found not disabled.


How far back can I receive retroactive disability benefits?


SSDI: The earliest your disability benefits will begin to accrue is 12 months prior to the date you filed your Social Security application.


SSI: There are no retroactive benefits available under this program. If the SSA finds you disabled and entitled to SSI benefits, the earliest your benefits will begin is the month after the date you filed your application for benefits.


Are benefits available for a past period of disability (“closed period”), even if I am no longer disabled?


SSDI: Yes.


SSI: Yes.


If you were disabled for a period lasting longer than 12 months, but have recovered and returned to work, you may still be found entitled to a “closed period” of disability benefits for the period you were out of work. For example, Social Security claims seeking benefits for cancer may turn into claims for a closed period of disability if chemo and radiation are successful in pushing the cancer into remission.


Am I eligible for benefits if I have nonwork income?


SSDI: Yes. Non-work income, pensions, passive income, and payments under other disability or workers’ compensation programs do not affect your eligibility for benefits under the SSDI program.


SSI: Probably not, depending on the amount of non-work income. Any resources you have or receive are considered equivalent to income under the SSI program and may prevent you from receiving disability benefits.


Are auxiliary benefits to others available based on the work earnings of a close relative or spouse?






Can you continue to receive benefits during a period of trial work?


Some of you may try to return to work after receiving an award of SSDI or SSI benefits. Your benefits will continue under both programs during your trial work period.


Are benefits available to noncitizens living in the United States?


SSDI: Yes.


SSI: No.


Get Help with Your SSDI or SSI Claim


As you can see, there are key differences between SSDI and SSI benefits. Generally, you will be in a better financial and medical position if you qualify for SSDI benefits because this program provides Medicare coverage and allows you to receive more money each month, depending on your past earnings.


Some of you may qualify for both SSDI and SSI benefits.


Call, text, or email Corey Pollard to learn more about your eligibility for Social Security benefits. There is no fee unless you get approved.