SSI and SSDI: Navigating Disability Assistance in the US

man sitting on wheelchair
by Advice Chaser
by Advice Chaser

Many Americans assume that “disability” is a single program. In reality, there is no one program that guarantees coverage for all Americans with disabilities. Instead, disabled people have to navigate two separate programs. Depending on your work history and income, you may qualify for SSI, SSDI, or both.

man sitting on wheelchair

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is not, by definition, an aid program. Instead, it’s considered an insurance program, like Social Security itself. You pay into the program all your working life, and if later you become disabled, you are entitled to a monthly income. You will need 40 Social Security credits, the same as with retirement benefits. Each credit signifies $1,640 in earnings, and you can earn up to four in a year. So if you have worked for ten years and earned at least $6,560 each year, you have enough of a work history to qualify. In the case of SSDI, you also have to have earned at least 20 of the credits in the last ten years. However, if you become disabled before the age of 31, you may be able to qualify with fewer credits.

In addition to the work requirement, you will also need to be totally disabled according to the Social Security Administration’s rules. This means you are not able to work at all. If you were trained in one job, become too disabled for that job, and are unable to adjust to a different job, you may still qualify. But if there’s a job you could be doing, the SSA does not consider you disabled enough for benefits. The disability must be expected to last at least a year or be a terminal condition.

The bright side of SSDI is that the benefit is larger than SSI and comes with no income requirement. While you can’t earn significant income from work (with a few exceptions) you can have assets, income from your spouse, or investment income.

SSDI Benefits from Someone Else’s Work History

What about those who have never been able to work? On their own, they will not qualify for SSDI. However, sometimes a spouse or minor child will be able to receive SSDI because of their spouse or parents. You can receive survivor benefits for a deceased spouse if you were disabled before or within seven years of their death. You also need to be between 50 and 60 years old.

Disabled children who receive benefits as a minor dependent of a Social Security recipient can continue to receive them after they turn 18. Or, if they become disabled before age 22 and their parent receives retirement or disability benefits or is deceased, they can receive benefits also.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is the disability income program that does not rely on your work history. If you became disabled at an early age or otherwise don’t have a work history, you likely will count on SSI.

For the most part, the medical requirements for SSDI and SSI are the same. You will need to have a disability that prevents you from working. You don’t need any work history, so this program is good for people who haven’t been able to earn a steady income in the past. But, unlike SSDI, there are limits on your income and assets. These limits are fairly strict. At this time, the limits for SSI are:

  • No more than $1,913 in monthly income from work ($2827 for couples)
  • No more than $934 in other income, such as a pension ($1,391 for couples)
  • No more than $2000 in total assets ($3000 for couples)

As you can see, these limits are very low. If you own a house or car, you likely will not qualify. Many disabled people choose to store savings in a trust or ABLE account, which allows them to use it for qualifying expenses without it affecting their SSI benefits.

Most people will find getting married causes them to lose their SSI. If your spouse is also disabled, your combined income limit is lower than the combination of your individual limits. On the other hand, if your spouse is not disabled and is bringing in income from work, this income is likely to disqualify you.

Combining SSI and SSDI

As you may see, it’s very possible to qualify for both SSI and SSDI. If you’ve worked, but your income and assets are very low, you might receive both sets of benefits. However, the money received from SSDI will reduce the amount you receive from SSI, because it increases your income. You may still receive more from both programs combined than you would from just one.

You don’t need to apply separately for each program. When you apply, the SSA will award you SSI, SSDI, or both, depending on your qualifications.

In addition to your monthly benefits, you can also receive health benefits. If you receive SSI, you automatically receive Medicaid also. If you receive SSDI, you will become eligible for Medicare after 24 months. So, if you are receiving concurrent benefits, you will receive Medicaid first, then later also qualify for Medicare.

The Struggle Is Real

If these programs sound complex and difficult to qualify for, you’re right. Disabled Americans find themselves piecing together a number of programs in order to make ends meet. There is also a significant amount of work required even to apply, as well as long waits before you receive any benefits. This can be discouraging, especially when you’re grappling with a new disability. However, help is available. Your state, county, or city may offer free assistance navigating these programs. Or you might seek professional help from a disability lawyer or financial advisor. At Advice Chaser, we have a number of advisors experienced in disability issues on our curated list. To connect with the professional you need, contact us today.

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