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By Royce Nunley

Like many laws and legal concepts, a great number of people get Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) confused. This is not surprising since both deal with benefits for disability, have similar acronyms, and are administered by Social Security. However, they differ in a number of very critical ways, and being eligible for one doesn’t necessarily mean you will be eligible for the other. Understanding the difference is the key to getting the benefits you deserve when you suffer a disability. Here in Michigan, you may need the services of your local disability attorney to help you get your benefits.

What are SSD and SSI?

While the Social Security Administration administers both SSD and SSI, they are completely different programs. SSD is a work-based program that is funded from your taxes. As you pay into FICA, you build up Social Security credits. These are then used to payout a benefit to you if you become disabled and entitled to receive SSD. However, you can only apply for SSD if you were employed. This is because it is designed as a benefit for workers. 

In contrast, SSI does not require that the applicant was ever employed. As a result, children and adults with disabilities can become eligible to receive SSI benefits even if they never worked. SSI is funded from general taxes, so it doesn’t matter if you never paid federal taxes of any kind before. This is because SSI is designed as a supplement benefit for indigent elderly, blind, and disabled people.

How are the benefits different?

With SSD, as you work and pay FICA Social Security taxes, you build up credits. The amount you need to pay in order to earn credits differs from year-to-year, but in general you can earn up to four credits per year. The maximum payment of SSD last year was $3,627 per month, which could be reached only if you had earned enough credits by the time you became eligible for SSD.

There is a different benefit structure for SSI. Payments depend on your eligibility, and are paid based on whether you are single or married. For individuals, the maximum monthly payment is $943. This increases to $1,415 per month for married couples, but as you can see, that is less than double the amount paid to singles. So, there actually is a slight marriage penalty under SSI.

What are the qualifications?

As previously stated, qualification for SSD benefits is based on work credits. This means you have to have worked for a long period of time to qualify for maximum benefits. It is also a program designed for working age individuals, so most applicants are between 18 and 65 years of age. A married person can qualify for SSD even if his or her spouse is gainfully employed. This is a benefit designed for a worker or employee who becomes disabled.

SSI is a needs based program. In other words, if you have too many assets, you will not be able to qualify for SSI. The current levels are $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a married couple. Once again, we see a marriage penalty with the SSI program. In fact, if your spouse is gainfully employed, his or her income can prevent you from receiving SSI benefits. This is something that does not happen with SSD eligibility.

Interestingly enough, if you build up enough credits under SSD but are indigent at the time you become disabled, you can qualify for both programs. In this situation, you will receive concurrent benefits. Some people receiving SSD benefits may also qualify for retroactive SSI payments from the past that they should have but did not receive at the time. It is vital to work with an experienced disability attorney so that you can receive the maximum payouts.

What are the potential health benefits?

Believe it or not, qualifying for SSD or SSI may also help you get healthcare insurance coverage. If you qualify for SSD, you may become Medicare eligible. However, there is usually a two-year waiting period. If you start receiving SSI benefits, you are entitled to receive Medicaid and food stamps as well without a waiting period.

Call us today to find out if you are eligible for SSD and/or SSI

If you are disabled and think you may be eligible for benefits, call our firm today. The experienced attorneys at The Nunley Law Group can help you navigate the application process for SSD and SSI benefits. In addition, if you are turned down for benefits, we can file an appeal on your behalf.

About the Author
Royce Nunley practices in the areas of Family Law, Criminal Law, Social Security, and Personal Injury law. Royce graduated Cum Laude from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. He continued his education at Wayne Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate Cum Laude. Named to Superlawyer’s “rising stars” in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 for his work in Family Law.