SSI Disability vs. Social Security Disability Benefits

by Lisa Allen   ·  3 months ago  

Confused about the differences between SSI disability and Social Security disability benefits? You’re not alone! It can be hard to understand these programs when you’re applying for benefits on your own.

Let’s break it down here a bit in a way you don’t need an attorney to understand. First, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) pays benefits to children and adults with very few resources, little to no income, and no recent work history.

SSI disability caters to three specific types of people:

  • People who haven’t worked in at least 5 years. This includes stay-at-home parents and people caring for aging parents or relatives.
  • People age 65 and older, simply by virtue of their age.
  • Children and working-age adults who are either blind or have a qualifying disability.

The SSI program pays benefits funded by the federal government’s general tax revenue. There is a limit to how much SSI a person can receive: $914 per month for an individual or $1,371 for married couples.

By contrast, you must spend at least 10-20 years working and paying FICA payroll taxes before you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. On average, SSD benefits pay $1,483 per month in 2023.

Who Likely Qualifies for SSI Disability?

People aged 65 or older that meet the program’s low income and resource limits should automatically qualify for SSI benefits. Unlike Social Security disability, you don’t have to show your employment history to collect SSI disability. This is because the money for SSD benefits comes from a dedicated Social Security payroll tax. However, not all people work in jobs that pay into the Social Security trust funds. Some examples of people who might not qualify for SSD despite their work history include Realtors, teachers, and state or federal employees.

You must, however, fall below a certain income limit in order to qualify for SSI disability. SSI calls this income Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Work is “substantial” if it involves significant physical or mental effort (or a combination of both). The program defines “gainful” as work that you perform for pay or profit, even if your employer fails to profit from it.

The SGA amount for people with disabilities other than blindness is $1,470 per month in 2023. For a blind person, that amount is $2,460.

What that means in plain English is that you cannot earn more than the amount shown above and qualify for SSI. This doesn’t mean, however, that all income you have access to will automatically count against you. Rent subsidies under HUD, for example, do not count as income when you apply for SSI. There are several other exceptions as well.

How Much SSI Disability Pays in Monthly Benefits

The maximum SSI disability pays each month in 2023 is $914 for an individual and $1,371 per month for a married couple.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can reduce this amount if you have money coming in from other sources. Some examples of what we mean include things like workers’ comp payments or VA benefits.

The SSA can also deny your claim for SSI disability if your monthly income is higher than the maximum allowable limit, which is:

  • $1,470 per month for individuals who are not blind
  • $2,460 for blind applicants

So how can you be sure you know what income counts and what doesn’t when you apply for SSI? Many people find this part of the claim process very confusing. When in doubt, request a free consultation from a local attorney to review and discuss your situation.

Other Benefits That Come With SSI Approval

If you qualify for SSI disability, then you may also automatically qualify for other aid programs that offer significant advantages.

SSI disability approval usually qualifies you for SNAP benefits (i.e., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP is what people commonly refer to as food stamps, or money to help pay for groceries each month. It might also qualify any school-age children in your home for free or reduced lunches. SNAP benefits can help you purchase things like:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Bread and grains
  • Meat and other proteins
  • Dairy products
  • Snack foods
  • Non-alcoholic drinks
  • Edible seeds and plants

However, you cannot spend SNAP benefits to purchase:

  • Alcohol
  • Live animals
  • Foods that are hot at the point of sale
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Medications
  • Items that humans cannot eat, such as pet food or cleaning supplies

Qualifying for SSI disability also provides access to discounted health insurance through Medicaid. Once the SSA awards you SSI disability, your Medicaid coverage begins the same month as your benefit payments.

Lisa Allen
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Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.