In this article...
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are different programs. Work history, income, resources and disability factor into which program is better for you.

When you deal with the government, you have to be ready for acronyms and initials. Sometimes, these alphabet soups are similar – and confusing. A perfect example: SSDI and SSI.

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance, while SSI is Supplemental Security Income. Both are federal benefits programs from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provide financial assistance to seniors and persons living with disabilities.

But while similar, they are different in important ways.

What Is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), SSDI provides financial support to individuals who are disabled and have a qualifying work history, either through their own employment or a family member, such as a spouse or parent.

To qualify for SSDI, you must:

  • Be disabled
  • Have sufficient work credits through your own or your family employment

In other words, SSDI is for workers who become disabled. It allows workers who have sufficient taxable employment credits to be covered by Social Security to receive their Social Security retirement benefits early.

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

SSI provides a minimum amount of financial assistance to older adults and persons with disabilities (regardless of age) with very limited income and resources, NCOA says. The federal SSI benefits provided by the Social Security Administration are often boosted by supplemental assistance from state programs.

To qualify for SSDI, you must meet one of these requirements:

  • Be age 65 or older
  • Be blind (any age)
  • Have a disability at any age AND limited or no income and resources

 SSI limits the amount of income and assets an applicant can have to be eligible. According to the SSA, to be eligible, generally, you must:

  • Earn less than $1,650 per month and
  • Have less than $2,000 in assets as an individual or $3,000 as a couple.

However, the formula for determining if you meet the income limits is complicated. 

What Is The Difference Between SSI And SSDI?

The biggest difference, according to NCOA, is that SSDI is based on disability and work credits. SSI is based on age, disability and limited income and resources.

An SSI recipient will also automatically qualify for Medicaid in most states. An SSDI recipient will automatically qualify for Medicare after 24 months of receiving disability payments. However, individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can qualify for Medicare immediately.

When Do Benefits Begin?

SSDI benefits begin at the sixth full month of disability. This six-month period starts in the first full month after the SSA determines that the disability began.

SSI benefits begin the first full month after the date the claim was filed or the date the applicant is found to be eligible for SSI, whichever is later.

How Much Are the Benefits?

As of November 2020, the average and maximum benefits for SSDI are:

  • Average monthly benefit of $1,128
  • Maximum monthly benefit of $3,148 (based on work history)

The average and maximum benefits for SSI are:

  • Average monthly benefit of $1,128
  • Maximum monthly benefit of $794 for single recipient (based on income)
  • Maximum monthly benefit of $1,191 for married couple (based on income)

Can You Receive both SSI and SSDI?

Yes. You can qualify for both programs if you have both limited income and resources and a work history.

How Do I Apply for SSI or SSDI?

To apply for SSDI benefits, visit this SSA web page or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

To apply for SSI, visit this SSA web page if you are an adult with a disability. You cannot apply online for a child under age 18, a senior with a disability or a non-disabled senior aged 65 or over. These people must go to their nearest Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

What If My SSI or SSDI Application Is Denied?

The NCOA says that many SSI and SSDI applications are rejected at first. The organization recommends that, if you think you the rejection is unfair, you should find a representative who is familiar with Social Security disability policy to advocate on your behalf.

You can find an advocate at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representative Association.  This is an association of attorneys and advocates who specialize in SSDI and SSI claims. You can also call the NOSSCR for a referral at 1-800-431-2804.

About the Author

David Levine is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, U.S. News & World Report and others.

David has covered health, health insurance and health policy topics – among many others – since 2017. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Rochester and currently lives in Albany, New York.

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