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An Applicant’s Guide to SSI and SSDI Eligibility

The Social Security Administration, or SSA, oversees governmental programs designed to assist individuals living with long-term and permanent disabilities that affect their ability to provide for themselves. The SSA grants this assistance through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Because these two programs have similar abbreviations and purposes it leads many individuals to use the terms interchangeably. However, the two programs provide different benefits and often serve different demographics.

What Is SSI?

The abbreviation SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. Many applicants with limited work histories can rely on SSI rather than SSDI.

SSI is a means-tested program, which essentially means that the SSA award benefits based on need rather than work history. SSI benefits enable beneficiaries to receive Medicaid through their resident state as well as food stamps.

What Is SSDI?

When you discuss Social Security benefits, you are most likely talking about SSD rather than SSI. SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. You may also hear SSD referred to as simply disability, benefits, or even Social Security.

SSA supports the SSDI program through payroll taxes. When an individual pays into the SSDI program through his or her payroll taxes, he or she accumulates work credits. Should this individual have the minimum number of work credits while disabled, he or she could receive SSDI benefits.

Immediate family members of qualifying SSD beneficiaries may also be eligible for auxiliary benefits through the SSD program.

If an individual receives SSD assistance for two years or more, he or she receives Federal Medicare insurance.

How Is SSI and SSDI Eligibility Similar?

The primary similarity between SSI and SSDI candidacy is the criteria for disability: you must be unable to do any work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy.  

How Does Eligibility for SSI and SSDI Differ?

While the Social Security Administration holds SSI and SSD applicants to the same medical standards of proof, your eligibility as a candidate may be different. Knowing these distinctions can help you understand your eligibility for SSI, SSD, or both — a situation known as concurrent benefits.

Your health insurance coverage under concurrent benefits may depend on your exact situation. For example, state Medicaid may cover you for the first two years of your SSI disability, but switch you to Medicare through your SSDI after two years.

The fundamental differences in SSI and SSD eligibility include the following.


SSA originally intended the SSD program to specifically target the needs of those over 65. If you are younger than 65, your work history weighs in more heavily. Disabled children, developmentally disabled adults, and young applicants may not qualify for SSD.

Duration of Disability

With both programs, you must have your debilitating condition at least one year in order to qualify for benefits. However, the exact length of time you have a disability before receiving benefits varies. Approved SSI benefits begin on the first of the month, while SSDI has a five-month wait.

Income and Asset Value

Because these programs supplement income, both have income and asset value requirements. The Administration updates income restrictions on an almost yearly basis. For SSI, applicants cannot have more than $2,000 in assets or $3,000 for a couple.

Why an attorney?

Because qualifying for benefits through the SSA is a complex process, you may wonder about your eligibility even when you clearly understand the lines between SSI and SSDI. Consult with a Social Security Attorney to determine how your circumstances affect your eligibility.

Your attorney can assist you with every step in the application process, including making the decision to apply for one or both type of benefits. Use the information in this blog as well as your attorney’s personalized recommendations to prepare your strongest possible application.

For expert, compassionate assistance and representation in all Social Security legal matters, trust Glen Cook Social Security Attorney. We can help you understand your eligibility for one or both programs, prepare your application, and make sure you know everything you need to know before applying for benefits.