A Comparison of the SSDI and SSI Disability Programs

Published on: July 14, 2015

SSDI and SSI Programs

When applying for disability benefits, or if your situation changes while receiving benefits, you must know what the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) programs are and how they differ. While similar in nature, these disability programs have differing requirements that must be met in order to become qualified.

SSDI is based on your earnings record, or accrued work credits over time, while SSI is for those specifically with “limited income and resources.”   Both programs carry a requirement that you have been found to be disabled.  Comparing these further will hopefully help you in your quest for the right amount of benefits that you’re entitled to.


SSDI is earnings-based “as required by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).” What this means to you is these payments are based on your lifetime average earnings and contributions to the Social Security trust fund. You cannot receive benefits under SSDI if you do not have enough work credits.

Some questions the SSA asks are:
(Referenced from the SSA’s website)

  • Are you working? (if you are working, most of the time you won’t be eligible for benefits)

  • Is your condition “severe?” (does your condition interfere with “basic work-related activities?”)

  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? (there is a Blue Book for conditions that can be instantly approved for disability payments)

To find out more about this, please see the SSA’s page on this here.

Another important point is you must meet the disability criteria in accordance with the SSA. You must be completely disabled for Social Security to provide payments under SSDI—so partial or short-term disability does not qualify under this umbrella. The SSA looks for whether you can do work that you previously did, your ability to adapt to other work, and if the disability is expected to last at least one year or result in death.   If you are approved for SSDI, you will become entitled to Medicare after receiving benefits for 24 months.


SSI is a federally funded disability program,  The main difference between SSDI and SSI is that the latter is based on financial need. While you must also meet the SSA’s requirement for disability, this comes in conjunction with limited income and resources.

Income is defined as “money you receive such as wages, Social Security benefits and pensions.” Keep in mind food and shelter falls under the income bracket, too. There are complicated income calculations the SSA utilizes to determine your income amount and what is and is not included in this calculation. Using your funds to pay for something such as a wheelchair doesn’t count against your payments, for example. SNAP benefits, or food stamps, also do notcount.

Resources are simply your possessions, or the things that you own. This includes real estate, cash, stocks and bonds and funds in bank accounts. Usually, if your countable resources are $2,000 or less, you are "resource-eligiblle" for SSI Your own home and property don’t count toward these resources (as long as it is your primary place of residenc).   Items such as life insurance policies, burial funds and bural contracts are generally excluded if their value is under 1500.00.   If you are entitled to SSI benefits for any month, you are also automatically eligible for Medicaid in that month.

There are other fine print guidelines you must follow when applying for these benefits, but the income requirements and deductions are the main differences when compared to SSDI.

Key Takeaway

So there you have it: comparing SSDI and SSI program benefits. This outlines some of the main differences between the two. One takeaway from this is it is completely possible to receive both SSDI and SSI benefits at the same time—but make sure you talk with a trained disability advocate who can evaluate your status and help allocate the maximum amount of benefits that you deserve.



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