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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Disability > Social Security Disability/SSI

What is the Difference Between SSD and SSI?


The U.S. Social Security Administration has two popular programs for people with disabilities. One is Social Security Disability, also known as SSD. The other is Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI. This article will explain some differences between the two programs.

The two programs have several things in common. The disability standards are the same. You can apply for both at the same place (your local Social Security office). Both involve payment of cash monthly benefits for people with long-term disabilities. However, there are important differences. You may also apply for SSD benefits online by visiting the Social Security website.

Where the Money Comes From

The SSD program is financed from Social Security taxes collected from workers, employers, and the self-employed. The SSI program is financed from general revenue and taxes.

Work Requirements and Family Benefits

To get SSD benefits you must have earned enough credits based on taxable work to have “insured” status for Social Security purposes. For more information, see Insured Status Requirements (from the Social Security website). Some family members of insured workers (children, spouse, widow(er)s, adults disabled since childhood) might also collect benefits from a qualified worker’s record in certain situations. See Disability Planner: Family Benefits (from the Social Security website) for more information on these extra benefits.

For SSI benefits, there is no prior work requirement. However, unlike SSD, the family members of SSI beneficiaries do not collect extra benefits.

Citizenship and Immigration Status Requirements

U.S. citizens are eligible to receive both SSD and SSI benefits if they meet the program requirements. Some non-citizens may also qualify. For SSD benefits, non-citizens must be lawfully present in the U.S. and have “qualified alien” status under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Examples may include permanent residents, asylum seekers, and political refugees. Some foreign workers, non-resident aliens, veterans, and active duty members of the U.S. Military may also qualify.

For SSI benefits, non-citizens must also have “qualified alien” status. However, there are additional conditions that apply depending on the situation. You may find a list of those conditions at Understanding Supplemental Security Income SSI Spotlight on SSI Benefits for Aliens (from the Social Security website). Some non-citizens may be limited to seven years of SSI benefits, although extensions may be possible.

Income and Resource Requirements

There are no income or resource limits for collecting SSD benefits. It will usually not matter to Social Security how much money you have in the bank or other resources. But if you are earning substantial income through work activity, Social Security might question whether you are disabled under its rules for SSD benefit purposes. Besides that, your SSD benefit will usually not be reduced or eliminated because you have other income or resources. One exception to that rule is if you received workers compensation benefits. Also, if you have a long term disability (LTD) policy, some policies require reimbursement and offset of LTD disability payments made during the same period you have received SSD benefits.

The SSI program does have low-income and resource requirements. Other countable income may reduce or even eliminate an SSI cash benefit. Also, if you have countable resources worth more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple, you would likely not qualify for SSI benefits. Some of your resources (the house you live in, some household items, car you drive, and some others) may not be counted. However, Social Security uses complex rules to sometimes count other family members’ incomes and resources to your record. Also, if someone is assisting you with food or shelter expenses, it might be counted as income to you. These rules can be confusing, and you may wish to get help if they apply to your situation. Since SSI is a means tested program, this meaning that certain income and assets can potentially disqualify you from getting SSI, it is always recommended that you speak to a lawyer or an SSI advocate prior to filing for disability.

Medical Benefits

If you qualify for SSD benefits, you qualify for Medicare health insurance coverage after receiving SSD benefits for two years. Medicare health insurance coverage requires the payment of a premium. The only current exceptions to the two-year waiting requirement for Medicare are for some people with kidney failure or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Most SSI recipients receive their health insurance coverage through an HMO approved plan.

If you qualify for SSI benefits, in most states (including New Jersey) you automatically qualify for a different kind of health insurance, Medicaid. There is no waiting period for Medicaid.

Amount of Monthly Cash Benefits

The SSD and SSI programs have different ways of determining the amounts of monthly cash benefits. The SSD program calculates monthly benefits based on the worker’s past earnings. You can determine the amount by speaking with someone at your local Social Security office or using its online calculator. Other people collecting on a worker’s record may be limited to a “family maximum” total benefit amount.

The SSI program uses a set federal benefit rate, which is supplemented by the state to determine a maximum SSI rate. SSI benefit levels can be different from state to state. Also, the maximum SSI benefit may change based on different categories. These SSI amounts and categories for New Jersey residents in the year 2015 are listed at Supplemental Security Income (SSI) In New Jersey (from the Social Security website). For example, the maximum SSI rate for a single person is $764.25 per month combined federal and state benefits. The maximum rate for a couple in which one person is entitled to SSI is $886.00. The maximum rate for a couple with both people entitled to SSI is $1,125.36 per month. These amounts may be reduced by other income or depending on your living arrangements.

How Far Back Can I Go to Collect My Disability Benefits?

If you became disabled several months or years ago, how far back could you possibly collect benefits if you filed for them today? The answer is different for the SSD and SSI programs. For SSD benefits, it is possible to collect cash benefits going back 12 months before the date you filed your SSD benefit application. To do that, you would have to prove you became disabled 17 months before the date you filed your SSD application. This is because of a rule that you do not collect SSD benefits for the first five months of disability.

The rule is less generous in SSI cases. Regardless of how long ago your disability started, you may not collect SSI benefits until the first month after you filed your SSI application. For that reason, it is unwise to wait to file an SSI application after becoming disabled. You are effectively losing a month’s worth of SSI benefits (and Medicaid coverage) every month you wait.

Sometimes you may go farther back by asking Social Security to reopen any prior SSD and/or SSI claims that were denied but not appealed. You may have to provide an explanation or “good cause” why you did not appeal those prior claims. If you are successful, SSA will use the date of filing of the prior claim when considering how far back to go in paying your benefits, provided you proved your disability started that far back.

Can I Collect Both SSD and SSI?

Yes, if you meet the requirements for both programs. You would need to have a sufficient work record to get SSD. Also, your income and resources would need to be low enough to collect SSI. Keep in mind that other benefits and income may reduce your SSI benefit amount. Even your SSD benefits would count as income that would lower your SSI. However, if your SSD rate was low enough so that it did not eliminate the SSI benefit, you might still qualify for a reduced SSI amount.

Time Limits on Proving When the Disability Started

Neither the SSD nor the SSI programs have general limits on the time in which you have to file your disability claim. However, the SSD program requires that you prove that your disability started on or prior to a special date called the date last insured. Social Security calculates this date last insured in each case based on your prior earnings history. It is important that you understand what the date last insured is in your SSD claim so you can gather proof that your disability started on or before that date. The Social Security caseworker assigned to your claim should be able to give you this information. The SSI program does not include any date last insured requirement.

SSA Work Incentive Programs

Once you start receiving SSD and/or SSI disability benefits, you may qualify for some of SSA’s work incentive programs. Some of these programs apply to both SSD and SSI benefits. However, others apply only to one program or the other. Some examples of programs that are only for SSD beneficiaries are the trial work period, extended period of eligibility, and extended Medicare coverage. Other programs are just for SSI beneficiaries. These programs are complicated, and you may want to learn more about them from several free sources. The SSA Redbook describes these programs. The NJWINS Project also provides free consultations and information on SSA work incentives to New Jersey residents.

The SSD and SSI benefit programs provide important benefits for people with disabilities. Understanding the differences in the programs is important so that people who qualify for them can get the help that they need.