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SSI vs. Social Security Disability 

Rushing Law Firm, PLLC Jan. 12, 2023

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers two programs for individuals living with disabilities. One is known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is funded by Social Security taxes. It is thus available only for those who have paid into the system. 

The other is called Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and though administered by the SSA, it is funded through general tax dollars. It is available to adults and children who are (1) blind or disabled and (2) have low incomes and limited resources. SSI benefits are also available to adults ages 65 and older — regardless of disability status — who meet certain financial requirements. Paying into Social Security is not required for SSI. 

As the nation enters 2023, the SSA has raised both the payout amounts for SSI and SSDI and the buy-in standards for SSDI — called work credits, representing taxes paid into the system — to factor in cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Other than requiring the payment of additional taxes to earn a work credit toward SSDI, or Social Security retirement in general, the qualifications for both programs have not changed. 

If you or a family member is living with a disability, and you’re looking to explore your options regarding SSDI and SSI, contact Rushing Law Firm, PLLC. Our Social Security Disability attorney is ready to help you pursue the benefits you need. From our office in El Dorado, Arkansas, we proudly serve clients in the surrounding areas of Magnolia, Camden and Crossett. 

Understanding Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 

As mentioned above, SSDI is a program for those who have paid into the Social Security system. To qualify for SSDI, depending on your age, you must have accumulated enough work credits. You accrue one work credit for every $1,640 you earn in income. You'll then pay taxes on that amount through your employer or through self-employment taxes. You can earn four credits a year, equaling $6,560 in income. No matter how much income you earn, you cannot accrue more than those four yearly credits. 

The number of credits you need to apply for SSDI benefits depends on your age. Generally, you will need 40 work credits, 20 of them being earned in the decade prior to applying for benefits, to qualify. There is a sliding scale, and the number of work credits diminishes if you’re under 62 years of age. A 50-year-old needs 28 credits and seven years of work history, while someone between the ages of 30 and 42 needs five years of work history and 20 work credits. 

If you develop a qualifying disability before age 24, you generally would have needed 1½ years of work experience (six credits) in the three years before your disability began. If you are between ages 24 and 30, you will need credits for half of the time between age 21 and the time your disability began. 

You must also have a recognized mental or physical condition that will last at least 12 months or until death, and it must prevent you from doing what is known as “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). For 2023, SGA is defined as earning $1,470 a month, which rises to $2,460 if you are blind. You can earn that much and still qualify for SSDI. 

The SSA agents administering SSDI claims also rely on what is called their “Blue Book,” which lists recognized disabling conditions. If your condition falls somewhere outside the published,  recognized conditions, you may have a more difficult ime proving your qualification based on disability. 

As for the amount of benefits you’ll receive, the severity of your condition is not a determining factor. What counts is your average lifetime earnings before you became disabled, which the SSA calls your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). This number is used to determine your primary insurance amount (PIA), or the amount you’ll receive monthly. For 2023, SSDI is increasing by 8.7 percent adjusted for inflation. The SSA expects the average SSDI payment to be around $1,483 per month, with a maximum of $3,627 per month 

Unlike SSI, an SSDI recipient cannot receive Medicaid until they have been on the program for 24 months. When the recipient reaches retirement age, Medicare will be available, and SSDI will convert to a retirement account. 

Understanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 

SSI is a federal program overseen by the SSA for those who are aged, disabled, or blind and may not otherwise qualify for SSDI. To qualify, a claimant must be: 

  • An adult age 65 or older; or 

  • A child or adult living with blindness or another disability 

A qualifying SSI candidate must also fall below specific income and resource (assets) thresholds. For instance, an SSI claimant cannot have more than $2,000 in assets as an individual or $3,000 as a couple. Exemptions are allowed for your primary residence and one vehicle, along with allotments for burial expenses. You must also be a citizen of the U.S., its territories, or the Northern Mariana Islands, or a qualifying alien. 

SSI will pay up to $914 for an individual in 2023 and $1,371 for a couple. The monthly amount can be reduced by what the SSA calls “monthly countable income.” Certain income is excluded. Generally speaking, your payment will be reduced by any outside income earned. A person can collect SSI benefits until they earn up to $1,912 a month. 

To receive SSI, you must also apply for Social Security benefits and any other government benefits for which you may be eligible. If you get approved for SSI, you usually can get benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, too. Medicaid helps cover doctor and hospital bills, and SNAP helps pay for food. 

Can You Have Both SSDI & SSI? 

You can qualify for both programs at the same time, which the SSA terms “concurrent” coverage. However, your SSI can be reduced by the income you earn from your SSDI benefits, or your SSDI benefits may be high enough to render you ineligible for SSI entirely. 

Talk to a Social Security Disability Attorney 

Both SSDI and SSI present complex challenges in qualifying. For SSDI, you must have work credits to qualify, and for SSI you must have limited income and resources. For both programs, you must meet the SSA’s definition of disability. The initial rejection rate when making a claim hovers around 60 percent, due largely to the claimant’s not submitting sufficient medical evidence to justify a disability designation. 

To better your chance of a successful application — or to challenge a rejected application — contact us at Rushing Law Firm, PLLC. We have helped countless others like you in the El Dorado and surrounding areas of Arkansas. Reach out today if you need assistance in Union County, Columbia County, Ashley County, or Ouachita County.