With their similar initials and overlapping missions, the two programs can be easy to confuse — but they differ in fundamental ways. Here are some of the key distinctions.
- SSDI is available to people with physical and mental impairments severe enough to prevent them from engaging in their normal occupations or any other substantial work. The disability must be expected to last for at least 12 months or to end in death.
- SSI is a safety net program that pays benefits to people who are disabled, usually based on the same definition used for SSDI; blind; or 65 and older. They must have very limited income and assets.
How to qualify
- SSDI is an earned benefit. As with Social Security retirement benefits, you qualify by working and paying Social Security taxes. How long you must have worked to be eligible varies based on your age when you become disabled.
As it does for the spouses and children of retirees, Social Security can pay additional benefits to the spouses and children of disabled workers. Adults who have been disabled since childhood may qualify for SSDI on a parent's record even if they never have worked.
- SSI is not tied to a recipient's work history. You can receive SSI if you never have worked or paid Social Security taxes. But your income and other financial resources, such as bank accounts and property, must not exceed strict caps.
In 2022, the maximum federal SSI payment is $841 a month for an individual and $1,261 a month for a couple receiving SSI jointly. Income up to those levels can result in your benefit being reduced; income above them can render you ineligible for the program.
The resource limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple.
Not all income and assets count against the caps. For example, Social Security exempts the value of your home and about half of earnings from work, among other things.