SSI and Social Security Disability How They are Different (Virginia Lawyer’s Perspective)

Social Security Disability (sometimes called SSDI) and SSI are confused by many people. I have been a Virginia Disability Lawyer for over 30 years. None of my clients know the difference between the programs. These are the most important differences between these programs:

First, in order to obtain Social Security Disability, you must have an earnings record and show you are disabled. Housewives come to me and say “Why cannot I get disability?” I reply, “Where is your earnings record?” Self-employed people call me and say, “Where is my disability?” I respond, “Did you ever file taxes and pay into Social Security?” People who are paid in cash or under the table contact me and request Social Security. I say, “You only get out what you paid in, it is not a free ride.”

Second, for SSI, you do not need an earnings record. You only have to show you are disabled. But SSI is a welfare program and even though its full name is Supplemental Security Income it probably should have been called “Welfare Disability.” As a welfare program, there is a means test. This means even if you are disabled you cannot receive SSI if you have either assets or income. In 2006, you cannot have more than $2,000.00 in cash assets and expect to qualify for SSI. The same housewife who could not obtain Social Security may also not be able to obtain SSI because (1) she has other unearned income; (2) her husband has too much income; and (3) she or her husband has too many assets.

Third, the Social Security benefit is dependent on the earnings the worker paid in and could be as high as $2,053.00 per month. Many ask me, “Why isn’t my benefit higher?” My answer always is, “You get out what you paid in.” Working at a minimum wage job is not going to result in a very high benefit. Not working for a number of years is also going to result in a lower benefit. On the other hand, the maximum SSI amount an individual can receive in 2006 is $603.00 per month but this does not depend on earnings.

Fourth, an individual on Social Security Disability can also expect a payment to dependent children up to age 18 or until the child graduates from high school. The dependent children share equally about 50% of the parent’s benefit. On the other hand there is no dependent care benefit for a recipient of SSI. People on SSI will often call me and say “Where is my child’s check?” Regretfully, I have to tell them SSI has no child benefit.

Fifth, Social Security Disability & SSI are similar in one way. The disability test is the same.

Sixth, when you file for Disability, Social Security will first check if you are eligible for Social Security Disability before allowing you to apply for SSI. Generally, if your Social Security check is higher than $603.00, you would not be eligible for SSI. On the other hand if your Social Security check is lower than $603.00, you may be able to receive a small SSI check so your total benefit is about $603.00 per month.

In Summary, when a person says I am on “disability” or I want “disability”, there is a big difference between SSI and Social Security Disability. Remember SSI is a welfare benefit & Social Security Disability is an earned benefit.

Copyright 2006, Jerry Lutkenhaus. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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