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What is the Difference Between Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income?

What is the Difference Between Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income?

Social Security benefits are an important financial lifeline for many families. According to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), approximately 9 million people are currently receiving Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. At Pekas Smith: Arizona Disability Attorneys, we are committed to representing people as they navigate the complexities of the SSD claims process. In this article, you will find a comprehensive overview of the differences between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Social Security Disability: Two Separate Federal Programs

If you cannot work due to a severe injury, a chronic illness, or another type of medical impairment, you may have a right to receive monthly compensation through Social Security. Navigating the process can be challenging. The system is complicated. As a starting point, it is useful to understand that there are actually two distinct federal disability programs that pay Social Security disability benefits to qualified applicants. You may be eligible for benefits through: 

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); or
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  

While both SSDI and SSI have similar medical eligibility requirements—meaning the medical standard that you need to meet to prove that you are disabled is the same—the programs have distinct technical eligibility requirements. The legal and financial standards that you need to satisfy to qualify for SSDI disability benefits are different from the standards for SSI disability benefits. 

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits on Technical Grounds

Social Security Disability Insurance is a federal disability program that provides coverage to people who have paid enough in employment taxes (FICA) to be covered as “insured.” In other words, not everyone in the United States is covered by SSDI. You can only bring an SSDI claim if you have earned enough work credits. How many credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits depends on your age. Here is a basic overview of the table: 

  • Under 28 Years Old: At least 1.5 years of work history. 
  • 30 Years Old: At least 2 years of work history. 
  • 38 Years Old: At least 4 years of work history. 
  • 46 Years Old: At least 6 years of work history. 
  • 54 Years Old: At least 8 years of work history. 
  • 60 Years Old: At least 9.5 years of work history. 

Qualifying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits on Technical Grounds

Not everyone who is disabled in the United States has a long enough work record to file for and receive SSDI benefits. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program exists to provide a much needed alternative to SSDI. A key difference between the two programs is that work history is simply not a relevant factor for SSI disability benefits. In evaluating your financial and legal eligibility for SSI benefits, the claims reviewers will not consider your work history or lack thereof. Instead, SSI technical eligibility is determined purely on financial need. To qualify for SSI disability benefits, a person must be medically disabled and they must have limited income and countable financial assets. The amount varies by year based on inflation. For 2022: 

  • The most monthly income that an individual can have to qualify for SSI disability benefits is $841. If they have a spouse, they couple can collectively have a maximum monthly income of $1,261. Certain limited income may be exempted. 

Comprehensive Medical Evidence is Key for All Social Security Disability Claims

No matter if you are preparing an application for SSDI benefits or SSI benefits, it is essential that your claim is supported by comprehensive medical evidence. Medical evidence is key no matter what type of SSD benefits you are seeking to receive. A significant share of Social Security disability denials are medical. The Social Security Office of Retirement and Disability Policy reports that nearly one third of all SSDI/SSI claims that are denied are rejected because of medical reasons—either lack of sufficient medical evidence or disputes over the implication of the medical records. An Arizona Social Security disability lawyer can help you prepare a well-supported claim. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With a Social Security Disability Lawyer in Arizona 


At Pekas Smith: Arizona Disability Attorneys, we are devoted to assisting people obtain and maintain their benefits. With experience handling SSDI claims and SSI claims, our attorneys have the professional expertise that you can trust. Contact us now to arrange a no cost, no obligation review and evaluation of your case. From our office in Phoenix, we provide SSDI and SSI representation throughout all of Arizona.

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