Daniel S. Lenz

Free initial consultation, Credit cards accepted

Serving Madison, WI

  • Serving Madison, WI

  • Free initial consultation, Credit cards accepted

Director and Attorney at firm Lawton & Cates, S.C.

Serving Madison, WI

Free initial consultation, Credit cards accepted

Dan Lenz blogs about Social Security Disability Insurance, SSDI, and
Supplement Security Income, SSI, and their similarities and differences.
This is important information for everyone, not only those on Social
Security Disability Insurance, to know.

The Social Security Act, in its current form, establishes several
major benefit programs to provide money benefits to people who are too
disabled to work[1]
The purpose of this post is to talk about two of those programs, Social
Security Disability Insurance and Supplement Security Income – how they
are different, how they are the same, and who might be eligible for

1.  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
One of the
programs established the Social Security Act and administered by the
Social Security Administration is Social Security Disability Insurance,
usually abbreviated to SSDI.  SSDI benefits are also known as Disability
Insurance Benefits and Title II Benefits. Eligibility for SSDI benefits
is determined by a person’s “insured status,” which is directly related
to that person’s work history.  There is no maximum or minimum income
or asset requirement.   To be insured for purposes of SSDI, a person
must be “fully insured,” and “disability insured.”  There are a number
of laws and regulations about what makes a person “fully insured” and
“disability insured” depending on your date of birth, and you may want
to talk to an attorney to make sure you meet these criteria.  In short,
to be “fully insured,” a person must have worked, and paid social
security taxes, over a substantial period of their adult life.  To be
“disability insured,” a person must have contributed to the program,
through the same taxes, sufficiently recently before becoming disabled.

If a claimant becomes disabled under the Social Security Act before
their “date last insured,” (and is below the retirement age) they are
generally entitled to receive SSDI benefits.  The amount of a person’s
SSDI benefit depends on their work history and earnings – the more a
person paid in taxes while they were working, the higher the benefit. 

2.  Supplement Security Income (SSI)
The other major
benefit program is Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Unlike SSDI, SSI
is a needs-based or income-based program, meaning that a person becomes
eligible based on their household income and assets, instead of their
work history.  SSI is designed to provide for very basic needs, such as
shelter and food, for those people who are disabled, blind or exceed the
retirement age and have very few assets and little to no income.  The
Social Security Administration has specific rules and exceptions for
what counts as income and assets or resources.  There are specific
formulas dealing with the income limit.  Generally, a person will not
qualify for SSI benefits if they are single and have resources (i.e.
bank accounts, investments, etc.) exceeding $2,000 or if they are
married with resources exceeding $3,000 for the couple. 

The amount of the SSI benefit varies by state because some states
supplement the benefit amount.  The amount of any SSI benefit is
generally considerable lower than the amount of an SSDI benefit because
SSI is only intended to cover basic needs.  SSI benefits may be offset
by other sources of income, including spousal income.  In certain
circumstances, a person can receive both SSDI and SSI benefits
simultaneously, so long as the SSDI benefits do not exceed the income
limit or completely offset the SSI benefit payment.

There are several things that are shared by the SSDI benefit and SSI
benefit programs.  Both are administered by the Social Security
Administration.  Applying for both programs is very similar, and they
share the same levels of appeal and rules regarding judicial review. 
Most importantly, the definition of “disabled” is identical for both
programs – it is any person who has a “medically determinable physical
or mental impairment which,” prevents that person from engaging in any
“substantially gainful activity” in the economy and is either expected
to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months. 

This post is a general overview of the similarities and differences
between two social security programs.  Each program and its procedures
are subject to many laws and regulations.  Talking to an attorney who
practices in this area can be helpful in determining whether you might
qualify for a social security program and how to go about claiming your

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