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SSDI and SSI: A Definition of the Two Disability Programs

You may be wondering if you quality for disability benefits from the government. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability programs are the two largest Federal programs (administered by the Social Security Administration) that provide assistance to people with disabilities.

If you aren’t clear on the difference between Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you are not alone. It’s easy to confuse the two programs or use the terms interchangeably, but they are completely different.

SSDI is an insurance program that is funded through payroll taxes. If you haven’t yet reached the age of 65 and become unable to work, and are found by the SSA to be disabled, you can collect benefits based on the number of years you have worked. In addition, the insured person’s spouse and dependent children can receive partial benefits.

SSI, on the other hand, is not disability benefits. It is a federal program that provides a monthly benefit to low-income individuals who are age 65 or older, or who are under age 65 and disabled.

To qualify for benefits under either program, you must have a disability and meet certain medical criteria. When you apply for either program, the Social Security Administration collects medical and other information from you in order to make a decision about whether or not you meet the government’s definition of disability.

Definition of disability

The first thing you need to know is that Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability. “Disability” is based on your inability to work. Social Security considers you disabled if you meet all three of these criteria:

  • You cannot do work that you did before.
  • SSA decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s).
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

You can use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to find out which programs may be able to pay you benefits.

If your application has recently been denied, the Internet Appeal is a starting point to request a review of the Administration’s decision about your eligibility for disability benefits.

If your application is denied for:

  • Medical reasons, you can complete and submit the required Appeal Request and Appeal Disability Report online.
This report asks you for updated information about your medical condition and any treatment, tests or doctor visits since the denial of benefits was made.
  • Non-medical reasons, contact your local Social Security Office to request a review or call (800) 772-1213 to request an appeal. If you are hearing disabled, call TTY (800) 325-0778.