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This page provides general information about the SSDI and SSI programs. If you have specific questions about either program or want to speak with someone about your case, call me at 877-626-3501 or visit the Help Me Bill! page.


The Social Security Administration oversees two disability benefit programs – Social Security Disability Insurance, known as SSDI or SSD, and Supplemental Security Income, known as SSI. These programs help millions of Americans maintain a reasonable quality of life, but every year the government rejects nearly four first-time applications for every one that it approves. Those who are rejected face an appeal process that will last months, if not years.  This is why I encourage people to contact an attorney as soon as they become disabled. Having expert counsel during the initial application can improve your chances for success and saves precious time if an appeal is necessary.

SSDI vs SSI

SSDI and SSI are two completely different government programs. While both programs are managed by the Social Security Administration, and the medical criteria for eligibility are the same for both programs, there are distinct differences between the two.

SSDI is available to those who have “paid into” the system through taxable income. SSI, on the other hand, serves as a safety net for low income people who do not qualify for SSDI. In other words, SSDI is intended for people who have worked most of their adult lives but can no longer do so due to a physical or mental disability, while SSI assists low-income people who have not worked enough to quality for SSDI.

SSDI Basics

In 2014, the Social Security Administration provided an average monthly benefit of about $1,150 per month to nearly 11 million disabled workers and their eligible spouses and children. For most of those families, SSDI is the main source of financial support and the only way they can maintain a modest quality of life.  In order to be eligible for benefits, you must have the required work history and meet the government’s definition of disabled.

SSDI Work History Requirement

You are eligible for SSDI if you have worked and paid Social Security (FICA) taxes for five of the past 10 years.  If that doesn’t describe your situation, you may still be eligible for SSDI depending on your age and how long you have worked.  Special rules are in place, for instance, for younger workers who have become disabled before they’ve had the opportunity to pay the required minimum amount of Social Security taxes. If you are unsure of whether your work history meets the SSDI requirements, call us at 1-800-626-3501 or complete our fast, free disability evaluation, and we will contact you.

Disability Determination

SSA’s definition of “disability” is very strict. It is important to remember that even if your doctor determines that you are unable to work, the government may disagree and deny your claim. According to the Social Security Administration, not being able to do the type of work you’ve done in the past doesn’t necessarily mean you are disabled. Your disability must make it impossible for you to perform any fulltime work. Your disability must also be expected to last at least one year or, possibly, result in death.

An attorney experienced with the government’s disability determination process will know how to obtain the medical proof necessary to give your disability claim or appeal the best chance of success.

Benefit Amounts

Monthly SSDI benefit amounts are based on the your Social Security earnings record.The higher your income, the higher monthly benefits would be. You must be deemed totally disabled to receive SSDI benefits. No benefits are paid for partial or short-term disability. Disability payments cannot begin until you have been disabled continuously for five months. After you receive disability benefits for 24 months, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare.

SSI Basics

SSI benefits are payable to disabled adults below the age of 65 and children who are blind or disabled. Unlike SSDI, SSI benefits are not based on your prior work history. Disabled people who did not earn enough taxable income to be eligible for SSDI may apply for SSI.

Monthly SSI payments are based on an individual’s income and resources, up to the maximum federal benefit rate. Some states supplement SSI benefits with an additional monthly sum, and in most states, disabled workers automatically become eligible for Medicaid once they become SSI beneficiaries.

The medical standards for disability are generally the same for SSDI and SSI for individuals age 18 or older.  For children from birth to age 18 there is a separate definition of disability under SSI.  The medical standard is based on the severity of your disability and financial need is not considered at this step in the eligibility process.

SSI Benefit Amounts

Amounts of SSI benefit payments are set annually by Congress and are typically adjusted every January to reflect the current cost of living. Maximum SSI payment amounts increase with the cost-of-living increases (COLA) that apply to Social Security retirement benefits.

In 2016, there was no COLA for Social Security retirement benefits, so there was no increase in SSI payment amounts this year. The maximum monthly SSI payment amount for 2016 is $733 for an individual and $1,100 for couples when both are eligible for benefits. To be eligible for the maximum amount, however, you must be responsible for paying your own housing and food costs. Benefit amounts for eligible people who live in someone else’s home or in an approved medical facility receive less, sometimes substantially less.