Understanding SSDI vs. SSI Can Save You Time, Effort, & Maximize Benefits

Tai Prohaska, MPH
Manager of Strategic Alliances, Allsup

There are two main federal disability benefits that can be a lifeline for individuals diagnosed SSDI vs SSIwith cancer: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and people often get them confused.

Before applying for either program, it’s best to understand the difference between them, and their eligibility criteria, so you don’t waste your time, effort, and resources applying for benefits that will be denied. On the flip side, understanding these programs can help ensure you get the benefits you deserve. About 8% of all Social Security disability beneficiaries qualify for both programs.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is a payroll tax-funded, federal insurance program. A portion of the FICA taxes workers pay is set aside for SSDI (as well as Social Security retirement and Medicare). SSDI provides you with income if you are unable to work due to a disability or until your condition improves, and guarantees income if your condition does not improve. To qualify for SSDI, you must:

  • Be between 21 and full retirement age
  • Have worked five out of the last 10 years
  • Be unable to work and are expected to be unable to work for 12 months or longer, or have a terminal condition.

The average monthly SSDI benefit in 2017 is $1,171 for a disabled former worker and $1,996 for a disabled former worker with dependents.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a means-based program for low-income individuals, so eligibility is based in part on your income and resources. To qualify for SSI, you must be:

  • Aged 65 or older;
  • Blind; or
  • Unable to work for 12 months or longer due to a medical or mental health condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death; and
  • Have no more than $2,000 in resources (for an individual) or $3,000 (for a couple).

The SSA does not count the home you live in or your car as resources.

The maximum monthly SSI benefit in 2017 is $735 for an individual and $1,103 for a couple. Most states pay some persons who receive SSI an additional amount called a “state supplement.”

Concurrent Benefits

Some individuals are eligible for both SSI and SSDI. This happens when a person is approved for SSDI, but receives a monthly payment that is less than the SSI maximum payment ($735 in 2017). This can happen when a person has not worked much in recent years, or earned low wages. People who are eligible for both programs can file a concurrent claim for disability benefits with the SSA.


Triage Cancer has resources to help you find out more about disability insurance and how it can help you:

For more information about the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits, visit: www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi or read this guide: www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf.

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