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Content Reviewed by: A. Parker Trotz
Mr. Trotz was recognized from 2019-2023 as a Super Lawyers Mid-South Rising Star. Mr. Trotz is also a member of the Young Lawyers Division of the Memphis Bar Association, Memphis Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, and the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association where he serves on the Executive Committee. READ OUR EDITORIAL GUIDELINES

Mr. Trotz was recognized from 2019-2023 as a Super Lawyers Mid-South Rising Star. Mr. Trotz is also a member of the Young Lawyers Division of the Memphis Bar Association, Memphis Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, and the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association where he serves on the Executive Committee. READ OUR EDITORIAL GUIDELINES

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are separate programs administered by the Social Security Administration that provide monthly income to individuals with qualifying disabilities. The Social Security lawyers at NST Law can help you determine which program you qualify for and file your claim.

The distinction between SSDI and SSI has been a source of confusion for many applicants for these programs. Although both programs target people with disabilities, they differ in virtually every other respect. The Social Security attorneys at NST Law can determine which program best fits your circumstances.

What do SSDI and SSI have in common?

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income have the following characteristics in common:

  • They provide monthly cash benefits to people who are blind or disabled.
  • They are administered through the Social Security Administration.
  • The monthly benefit amounts are adjusted annually for inflation.
  • They require complex application processes that are best handled by an experienced disability lawyer.

How do SSDI and SSI differ?

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income differ widely in terms of program qualifications, benefits, and administration.

Qualification for Benefits

Applicants must prove they are blind or have another qualifying disability to be eligible for SSDI and SSI. However, each program has specific criteria for disabilities and imposes different requirements.

SSDI Qualification Criteria

For SSDI purposes, a qualifying disability is a total disability that prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity is employment or self-employment that yields a net income that reaches or exceeds statutory limits. The disability must be expected to last at least a year or result in your death.

In addition to a qualifying disability, you must have earned sufficient work credits to qualify. You earn work credits when you are employed and contribute to the Social Security trust fund. These contributions are made through your Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, which are deducted from your paychecks.

Upon reaching 65, you no longer qualify for SSDI. Instead, your SSDI benefits are converted to retirement benefits. The amount typically remains the same.

SSI Qualification Criteria

Supplemental Security Income applicants are also required to prove blindness or disability, but unlike SSDI, you may also qualify for SSI if you have reached the age of 65 and meet other qualifying criteria, regardless of disability.

The primary difference between qualifying for SSI and SSDI is that SSI applicants need not have acquired work credits to qualify. Instead, SSI applicants must demonstrate that they have a financial need. This is accomplished by proving your income and assets are below the limits set by the Social Security Administration.

Your monthly income must be lower than the SSI base benefit level, and your total assets must be below $2,000 if you are single or $3,000 for couples. Social Security generally does not count your primary residence or vehicle as an asset.

Monthly Benefit Amount

Each program calculates the monthly payment amount differently. SSI benefits tend to be more limited than SSDI benefits.

SSDI Benefits

Social Security Disability is determined by your lifetime earnings. The more you earned over the course of your life, the higher the payment. The maximum monthly payment for 2022 is $3,345 per month. This amount changes annually based on inflation. The annual adjustment is known as the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

The Social Security Administration has announced that the adjustment in 2023 will be 8.7 percent. This means all beneficiaries will receive an 8.7 percent increase in their benefits, and the maximum monthly benefit will increase to $3,636.

Individual factors can impact your monthly disability benefits. Your monthly SSDI benefit may be reduced if you receive other disability benefits, such as workers’ compensation. If you have a spouse and dependent children, they may also qualify for benefits.

SSI Benefits

Supplemental Security Income is calculated by deducting your existing income from the monthly base amount. If you do not have any other income, you may be eligible to receive the full base amount.

Like SSDI, SSI is adjusted by inflation annually. In 2023, the base amount is increasing from $841 to $914 for a single person and from $1,261 to $1,370 for a couple.

SSI does not offer family or dependent benefits, but you can receive an additional benefit for an essential caregiver.

SSI recipients in many states also receive a state-funded supplemental benefit. The states in the NST Law service area that offer supplemental benefits are Missouri and Illinois. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi do not offer state supplemental benefits.

photo of Social Security and Medicare cards

Health Insurance

SSDI beneficiaries are automatically eligible for Medicare. SSI beneficiaries are generally eligible for Medicaid, which is administered at the state level.

SSI recipients also receive automatic eligibility for a variety of low-income programs, such as Extra Help, a program that provides extra coverage for prescription medications. If you have Medicare and receive SSI, the state will typically pay for your Medicare premiums.

Back Pay and Waiting Periods

One of the most significant concerns of SSI and SSDI applicants is when benefits will start.

When will SSDI payments begin?

SSDI imposes a five-month waiting period, and benefits are paid the month after they are due. This means your benefits will begin six months after the date Social Security determines your eligible disability began.

Social Security assumes you will receive other benefits, such as workers’ compensation, during this time. In many cases, the waiting period has ended by the time the disability application is submitted and well before it is approved.

Source of Funds

Social Security Disability benefits are paid from a trust fund that was funded through FICA taxes. This program is considered an entitlement program because beneficiaries paid into it.

Supplemental Security Income is a public benefits program. Funding for this program comes from general tax revenues.

Is it possible to collect both SSDI and SSI at the same time?

It is possible to receive SSI and SSDI at the same time if your SSDI benefits are lower than the base SSI amount.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for SSDI and SSI?

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income have complex application processes and strict disability definitions. Qualified applicants are frequently denied benefits because they do not understand the application or the disability requirements. The appeals process is even more complex.

The Social Security disability lawyers at NST Law in Memphis, Jackson, Knoxville and Little Rock have been helping disabled clients qualify for SSDI and SSI for nearly 33 years. We have a thorough understanding of Social Security’s requirements. Our disability attorneys can determine which program is appropriate for you and increase your chances of being approved.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with the champions for the injured.

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Content Reviewer Box for A. Parker Trotz with his awards and credentials