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Major Differences Between Social Security Disability and SSI

Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are both important programs to help those who become disabled and are unable to work. These programs are a safety net for many Americans.  While the programs sound similar at first, they are different in some significant ways. Understanding the differences between the programs can be vital for a person who becomes disabled and needs to apply for benefits.


Social Security disability payments supplement the income of a person who has a total disability and can no longer work. Eligibility is based on prior work history. Workers must accumulate a sufficient number of credits working in a taxable job prior to the disability in order to be insured. 

SSI is a need-based program (Link to Library Article 1, “Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility and Qualifications,” not yet uploaded) that provides monthly cash benefits for low-income people who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled.  In addition, recipients must be United States citizens with very limited income and assets. SSI benefits are not based on prior work history.


The two programs are funded differently by the federal government. Social Security disability is funded through employee tax withholding and employer match contributions. SSI, on the other hand, is financed with general tax revenue funds from the U.S. Treasury.

Medical Coverage

Social Security disability recipients automatically receive Medicare coverage after two years. SSI benefit recipients are immediately eligible for Medicaid in most states.

Benefit Amount

Social Security disability benefit amounts generally are based on the earnings record of the disabled worker. SSI benefit amounts are based on a federal schedule of benefits and may be supplemented at the state level.

Benefit Payees

Social Security disability benefit payees include the disabled worker as well as their children, widow(er), and children disabled from birth. SSI benefit payees include adults age 65 or older, disabled adults, and disabled children.

Both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security disability are important benefit programs to assist those who are unable to work because of a disability. Both programs are complicated and applying for benefits can be confusing.

If you have any questions about SSI or Social Security disability benefits, a Carlisle Social Security disability attorney can help. Contact an injury lawyer at Schmidt Kramer toll free at (717) 888-8888 for a free case review.