SSI vs SSDI: 3 Big Differences

  • November 21st, 2014

Young woman who uses a wheelchair withdraws cash from an ATM.Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are both federal health care programs that provide cash payments to people who meet the federal definition of “disabled.”

But the similarities between the two programs end there.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) gives people with disabilities and very limited means funds that serve as a “supplemental” income. These funds are intended to help them cover the cost of basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing.

What Is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) offers financial assistance to people with disabilities, regardless of how much they make.

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Here are the three main differences between the two programs:

1. Each Program Uses Different Criteria

Although both of these programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), they have vastly different financial requirements.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Is a Means-Based Program

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 this program is narrowly tailored for this particular set of people, it has a very strict set of financial requirements. This is why it is known as a “means-tested” benefit.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Is an Entitlement Program

Social Security Disability Insurance, by contrast, is an entitlement program typically available to any person who has paid into the Social Security system for at least 10 years, regardless of their 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.

2. SSI and SSDI Recipients Get Access to Different Benefits

SSI Beneficiaries Typically Receive Medicaid

In most cases, a person who receives SSI immediately qualifies for Medicaid benefits.

Medicaid is a joint state and federal health care program that typically provides very comprehensive coverage for its beneficiaries. Therefore, many people may apply for SSI primarily because of the health care that comes with it.

SSDI Provides Access to Medicare

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. Many Medicare beneficiaries purchase what are known as private “Medigap” policies to fill in the holes in their primary Medicare coverage.

3. The Financial Benefits Can Be Very Different

Finally, SSI and SSDI benefits vary widely when it comes to the amount of money provided.

SSI Benefits

In 2023, the federal SSI payment standard is $914 per month for an individual. (Most states augment this with a small additional payment.) For couples, the federal SSI payment standard is $1,371 per month.

Note that SSI benefits are reduced by any other income received by an SSI beneficiary. So, many SSI recipients will receive less than the $914-per-month payment standard.

SSDI Benefits

The average SSDI payment in 2023 is $1,483 a month. This is an increase from $1,358 per month in 2022. Since SSDI is based on your earnings record, some SSDI recipients can receive much more than this. The maximum amount an SSDI beneficiary can get is $3,627 per month.

Note that, in most cases, if a person receives an SSDI benefit that is higher than the maximum SSI payment, they won’t be eligible for SSI.

Further Guidance

Consider consulting with a qualified special needs attorney in your area to learn more about these public assistance programs.

Last Modified: 04/18/2023


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