What’s the Difference between Social Security Disability Insurance & Supplemental Security Income?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. However, while both of these programs offer cash benefits for individuals who are blind or have a disability, the financial eligibility requirements for each are very different.

What Is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance is funded through payroll taxes. SSDI recipients have worked for a certain number of years and have made contributions to the Social Security trust fund. SSDI candidates must be younger than 65 and have earned a certain number of “work credits.” After receiving SSDI for two years, a person who is blind or has a disability will become automatically eligible for Medicare.

Under SSDI, the spouse and children of a person with a disability are eligible to receive partial dependent benefits, called auxiliary benefits. However, only adults over the age of 18 can receive the SSDI disability benefit.

Social Security disability benefits are paid after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. Disability benefits are paid beginning with the sixth full month after the date your disability began.  You are not entitled to benefits for any month during this five-month waiting period. The amount of the monthly benefit after the waiting period is based upon your earnings record, much like the Social Security retirement benefit.

Learn more about SSDI and SSI benefits.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income is a program that is strictly need-based, according to income and assets, and is funded by general fund taxes. To meet the SSI income requirements, you must have limited income and resources.

An adult or child who is blind or has a disability must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Have limited income;
  • Have limited resources;
  • Be a U.S. citizen or national or in one of certain categories of aliens; and
  • Live in the United States or Northern Mariana Islands.

The monthly payment is based strictly on financial need and varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate. Some states add money to federal SSI payments. Approval for benefits generally takes three to six months. Once you are approved for SSI, you will get benefits retroactive to the date of your application.

If you are blind or have a disability, which prevents you from working, and you appear to meet all other eligibility requirements, it is possible to get SSI earlier. Sometimes on the day you apply.

In most states, beneficiaries are automatically eligible for Medicaid.

Learn more about the SSI and SSDI benefits.


Return to Disability.gov’s Guide to Disability Benefits.