Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are both federal programs administered by the Social Security Administration that provide financial assistance to people with disabilities.  The chief difference between the two programs is that SSDI requires the disabled individual to have paid Social Security taxes long enough to qualify as insured.  In contrast, SSI does not require that the disabled individual has paid Social Security taxes, but instead requires that the disabled individual demonstrates financial need.

SSDI – Social Security Disability Insurance:

To qualify for SSDI, a disabled worker must have accumulated enough work credits.  Work credits are based on total yearly wages and workers can earn up to four per year.  To qualify for SSDI, a worker must have at least 20 to 40 work credits, depending on the worker’s age at the onset of disability.  In addition, 20 of those work credits must have been earned in the last 10 years prior to the date the worker became disabled.  However, these work credits do not need to be consecutive.  Additionally, the required number of work credits is different for workers under the age of 31.  SSDI benefit amounts are calculated based on how much the disabled person has paid in Social Security taxes.  More information on work credit requirements can be found  here.

SSI – Supplemental Security Income:

In contrast to SSDI, SSI is a need-based program.  No work credits are required for SSI eligibility.  This means that disabled individuals who have never worked, including children, may qualify for SSI.  However, to qualify for SSI, a disabled person must have both limited income and limited resources.  SSI benefit amounts are not calculated by how much the disabled person has paid into Social Security, but rather by how much income the disabled person receives.

Limited Income:

For the purposes of determining SSI eligibility, the Social Security Administration considers both earned an unearned income.  In addition, the Social Security Administration also considers as income any food or shelter the disabled person receives for free or for less than fair market value.  The Social Security Administration will also count the income of the disabled person’s spouse or parents, if the disabled person lives with a spouse or parents.  Certain income, including food stamps and tax refunds, is not counted.  More information on income can be found here.

Limited Resources:

In addition to having limited income, a disabled person must also have limited resources to qualify for SSI.  The current resource limits for SSI are $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple.  The Social Security Administration counts cash, property, and anything else which could be changed to cash and used for food and shelter as resources.  Some resources, such as the disabled person’s home and a single vehicle, are considered exempt and are not counted toward the maximum resource values.  More information on resources can be found here.

Since SSI eligibility is based on a disabled person’s income and resources, it is possible for a person to qualify for both SSDI and SSI.  For example, if a person has enough work credits to qualify for SSDI but their monthly benefit amount is less than the maximum allowable income for SSI, the person may receive SSI benefits in addition to SSDI.  To help determine which benefits you may be eligible for, the Social Security Administration provides a Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.

To determine whether or not a claimant is disabled, the Social Security Administration uses a five-step process. This process is the same whether the claimant is filing for SSDI or SSI benefits.  The five steps include the following questions:

1. Is the claimant currently performing Substantial Gainful Activity?

The first thing the Social Security Administration considers is whether or not the claimant is performing Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA.  In general, a claimant is engaged in SGA if the claimant is working and is earning more than $1,070 per month.  Therefore, it is possible for a claimant to work and not be found to be performing SGA.  If a claimant is found to be engaged in SGA, the claimant will be found not disabled.  If the claimant is not found to be engaging in SGA, the Social Security Administration moves on to the next step.

2. Are any of the claimant’s conditions severe?

For a condition to be considered severe, it must have persisted or be expected to persist for at least 12 months and it must interfere with basic work-related activities.  If the Social Security Administration finds that none of the claimant’s conditions are severe, it will find the claimant to be not disabled.  If the Social Security Administration determines that any of the claimant’s conditions are severe, it will proceed with the next step.

3. Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals one of the conditions on the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments?

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions that they find to be so severe that they are automatically disabling.  If a claimant is found to meet the criteria for one of these listed conditions, he or she is automatically found to be disabled.  When determining if a claimant meets any of the listed conditions, the Social Security Administration must consider the effects of all of the claimants medical conditions taken together.  The Social Security Administration has different lists for adults and children.  The Listing of Impairments, as well as the requirements for meeting each listing, can be found here.

If a claimant is not found to have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the Social Security Administration moves on to the next step.

4.  Can the claimant perform any Past Relevant Work?

The Social Security Administration considers Past Relevant Work to be any work the claimant has performed during the 15 years prior to his or her disabilities.  Before determining whether the claimant can perform Past Relevant Work, the Social Security Administration must determine the claimants Residual Functional Capacity, or RFC.  Based on evidence in the record, the Social Security Administration will determine the claimant to be capable of heavy, medium, light, sedentary, or less than the full range of sedentary work.  The Social Security Administration will also consider the impact of other limitations, including psychological limitations, on the claimant’s capability to perform work.

Once the Social Security Administration has determined the claimant’s RFC, they will determine whether or not the claimant can return to any of his or her Past Relevant Work.  In doing so, the Social Security Administration will consider the claimant’s RFC and their previous job duties.  If the claimant is found to be capable of performing Past Relevant Work, the claimant will be found not disabled.  If the claimant is found to be incapable of performing Past Relevant Work, the Social Security Administration continues to step 5.

5. Can the claimant perform any other work?

Finally, the Social Security Administration will determine whether or not the claimant is capable of performing any work.  In making this determination, the Social Security Administration considers the claimant’s RFC, as well as the claimant’s age, education, and work experience and will determine whether there exists any job in the national economy that the claimant can perform.  If the Social Security Administration finds that there are any jobs the claimant is capable of performing, the claimant will be found not disabled.  If the claimant is determined to be incapable of performing any work, the claimant will be found disabled.  More information on how the Social Security Administration considers education, age, and prior work experience can be found here .