Understanding Social Security Disability (SSDI) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Under the federal Social Security Disability Act, “disability” means the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months or result in death”.

For both programs, you have to be disabled and under age 65. Your disability has to be permanent (lasts at least a year), not a short-term problem.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

The law is called “Title II”

You can get SSD if you worked before you were disabled. You can also qualify for SSD in some cases if your parent or spouse worked. The person who worked has to earn enough to obtain “insured status.” The amount of benefits you receive each month depends on how much you earned before you were disabled. The more you earned, the higher your monthly check. If you have money in the bank, you can still receive your SSD check. You can own a home of your own and still receive SSD. If you receive some unearned income, such as a retirement pension or payments from a trust, you can still receive SSD. You can earn up to $800 per month and still receive SSD. You can earn more than that without any penalty if you have disability-related expenses at work. You can receive your SSD even if you are married to someone who works and earns a good income.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The law is called “Title XVI”

You can get SSI if you didn’t work enough to have “insured status” before you were disabled. If your SSD check is a very small amount, you could receive SSI to make up the difference to equal the SSI monthly amount. Your benefits will be about $570 per month. If someone is helping you with the cost of your housing, food, or clothing, your benefits might be even less. If you have more than $2,000 in the bank, you cannot receive SSI. You can own a home of your own, and receive SSI, so long as you live in the home. If you receive “passive” income, such as a retirement pension or payments from a trust, you cannot receive SSI. You can work. The first $65 per month is yours to keep, but beyond that, SSI will take half your check. You can earn more without any penalty if you have disability-related expenses at work. You cannot receive SSI if you are married to someone who works and earns a good income.