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What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Charla Tadlock Apr 6, 2017

SSD Benefits:

To be eligible for SSD benefits, the claimant must be insured for disability benefits. To be insured for disability benefits, the claimant must have earned enough quarters of coverage by paying Social Security taxes during certain time periods. Generally, the claimant needs 40 quarters of coverage, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year the claimant’s disability began. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer quarters of coverage. For example, a claimant disabled before age 24 can be insured for disabled benefits by earning 6 quarters of coverage in the 3 year period ending when the claimant’s disability begins. Claimants ages 24 to 30 can be insured for disabled benefits by earning half the quarters of coverage available between age 21 and the age when the claimant becomes disabled. For example, a claimant disabled at age 29 would need to have earned 16 quarters of coverage during the past 8 years (between ages 21 and 29).

A person can earn up to four quarters of coverage in every calendar year. The amount of earnings needed to earn a quarter of coverage varies depending on the year.  In 2015, a person needed to have $1,220.00 in earnings to earn one quarter of coverage, and in 2016, a person needed $1,260.00 in earnings to earn one quarter of coverage.  Now for 2017, a person needs $1,300.00 in earnings to earn one quarter of coverage.   

The need to be insured for disability benefits can cause a lot of technical issues.   A claimant can file a disability claim after he or she was last insured for disability benefits, but he or she still needs to prove disability began before that date last insured.  A problem arises when the claimant has filed a prior claim, which  was denied after the date last insured. 

Disability benefits are calculated based on the claimant's earnings.  The average SSD benefit is approximately $1,170.00 per month, but an individual's SSD benefit may be much higher. When a claimant receives SSD benefits, the claimant’s dependent children are also eligible for benefits. Sometimes, the spouse can even qualify for benefits. Additionally, when a claimant receives SSD benefits, the claimant will be eligible for Medicare after the claimant has received 24 months of SSD benefits.

SSI Benefits:

To be eligible for SSI benefits, the claimant’s income and resources must be under certain limits. Income includes wages, Social Security benefits, and food and shelter. The amount of income a claimant can have and qualify for SSI benefits depends partly on where the claimant lives. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not count all of the claimant’s income when determining if the claimant qualifies for SSI benefits. For example, the SSA does not count the first $20 per month of most income. Additionally, the SSA does count the first $65 per month the claimant earns from working and half the amount over $65. However, if the claimant is married, the SSA will include part of the claimant’s spouse’s income when deciding whether the claimant qualifies for SSI.

The resources limit for a single individual is $2,000, and the resources limit for a married individual is $3,000. However, many things do not count as a resource. For example, the SSA will not count the value of the house in which the claimant lives, life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or less, and burial plots for the claimant and the claimant’s immediate family .Additionally, the SSA usually does not count the claimant’s car as a resource.

The claimant's SSI benefit is based on other income, marital status, and living arrangement.  Unlike SSD, there are no additional benefits for dependents. However, Medicaid eligibility is automatic once the claimant has been found eligible for SSI.  

At Murphy Law Firm we handle SSD and SSI cases.  For a free consultation with one of our experienced staff members, please call us at (406) 452-2345 or visit us at 

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