Social Security has two different benefit programs for individuals who are disabled.
- Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB, also known as SSDI, or Title 2 benefits); and
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI or Title 16 benefits).
Because of its name, it is a common misconception that you must apply for “Disability Insurance” if you are disabled. Actually, both programs provide disability benefits.
So, what’s the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income?
What is Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits?
Generally, Disability Insurance Benefits are based on your payroll contribution to Social Security. To qualify for SSDI, you have to have earned enough Social Security credits, in the right time frame, by paying into Social Security through payroll taxes.
There are several circumstances in which you may not have enough credits for Social Security Disability Insurance:
- If you have never worked.
- You worked so long ago that you are past your date last insured.
- Instead of paying into Social Security, you paid into a state program (such as PERA).
In each of these cases, you might not be eligible for Disability Insurance. Please note that this is just an overview. There are several circumstances in which you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance even if you do not have enough credits under your own earnings.
- Social Security Disability Insurance based on a spouse’s, or former spouse’s, earnings.
- Widow/er’s benefits and Children’s benefits when a spouse/parent dies.
- DAC (Disabled Adult Child) benefits.
It is often a good idea to speak with Social Security if you think you may qualify for one of these other types of Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits.
What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
Even if you are not eligible for SSDI, you may still be able to apply for SSI.
Supplemental Security Income is a Social Security program which provides disability benefits to the following groups:
- Adults who have never worked; and
- Adults who do not have enough quarters of coverage, or are past their date last insured.
Between a Rock and Hard Place:
Is it possible to not be eligible for either Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income?
If you cannot prove your disability prior to your date last insured, and your spouse makes too much money (or you have another problematic source of income), it is possible that you may not qualify for either SSDI or SSI. This is the proverbial “between a rock and a hard place.”
Which Program Should I Apply For?
In my opinion, apply for both. Do not rule out your eligibility for a particular Social Security program. When you apply, Social Security will determine which benefit program(s) you are eligible for and will help you file the application. However, if you want to know if you will qualify for either program, Social Security has a website where you can see what benefits you may be eligible for.