• Justin S. Raines

What's the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income?


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are both disability benefit programs that pay monthly benefits to people with severe physical or mental impairments that prevent them from working.


Both SSDI and SSI follow the same five-step sequential analysis when determining if a person qualifies for monthly disability benefits. Both SSDI and SSI follow the same application and appeal process.


The three key differences between SSDI and SSI are (a) the non-medical eligibility criteria, (b) the source of funds used to pay those benefits, and (c) when benefits are first payable.


For SSDI, the non-medical eligibility criteria is usually a requirement that the person worked long enough to become insured for disability benefits. When people work, they pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes and pay into the Social Security system, insuring themselves in case they become disabled and earning retirement for when they reach retirement age.


If a person has not worked long enough, the person’s own earnings history will not qualify for disability benefits even if the person is disabled. Fortunately, there are still programs like disabled widows benefits (DWB) and Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits, which allow one person to apply based on a loved one’s work and earnings history.



For SSI, the non-medical eligibility criteria is based on a claimant’s financial need. To qualify for benefits, an SSI claimant needs to show that the claimant and the claimant’s immediate family have limited income and resources. Fortunately, certain assets, like a person’s principal residence, are not counted for SSI purposes.


Once an SSDI claimant begins being paid, that person’s benefits will be paid from the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund. On the other hand, an SSI claimant’s benefits are paid from general tax revenue in the United States.


In an SSI disability case, benefits are payable in the month after the claimant filed the application. Because benefits are not payable until the month after the SSI disability claimant files, it is important to file an SSI application as soon as a claimant becomes unable to work.


In an SSDI disability case, benefits are first payable six months after the alleged onset date (AOD) and up to one year before the claimant filed the disability application. Because benefits are only payable for up to a year before the SSDI disability application is filed and because it can prove difficult to prove a case once the date last insured (DLI) has expired, it is important to file an SSDI application as soon as the claimant becomes unable to work.


If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.

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