Many people think SSI and Social Security Disability benefits are the same. They are actually two very different programs. One is a need-based program that is only available to low income people, the other is based on your earnings history. The only similarity is that both provide benefits to people who are disabled.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
While SSI is managed by the Social Security Administration, it is not a Social Security program. SSI is funded by the US Treasury, not Social Security taxes. SSI is a program for low income people who are age 65 or older, or who are disabled or blind. Children who are blind or disabled may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income.
The main point to remember about SSI is that it is a need-based program, which means that you must have very limited finances to qualify. Social Security looks at both your income and your assets available when determining if you can receive benefits. For more information on who qualifies, please read SSI Income Limits: How Much Can You Earn and Still Qualify for SSI?.
The basic benefit for SSI is the same for everyone. In 2011 the monthly benefit is $674 for individuals and $1,011 for married couples. SSI is a federal program, but many states also provide benefits in addition to the federal benefit.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
While SSI is based on financial need, Social Security disability requires you to have an earnings history in order to qualify for benefits (in addition to meeting the definition of disabled). Basically, you must have worked and paid into Social Security to qualify for disability benefits, whereas with SSI you may receive benefits even if you have no earnings history.
The benefit amount for disability depends on your earnings history and how much you have paid into Social Security. Spouses and minor children of disabled workers may also receive benefits under the Social Security disability insurance program.
SSI and SSDI – Can You Collect Both?
It’s possible that someone who is eligible for SSI – because they have low income and limited assets – may also qualify for Social Security disability. This can happen when someone who previously worked enough to qualify for Social Security benefits also meets the income and resource requirements for Social Security. However this is rare; typically people will qualify for one or the other, not both.
You should contact your Social Security Administration office to determine which benefits you may qualify for.