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Social Security Disability Benefits (Title II, SSDI)

SSDI is a commonly used acronym for Social Security Disability Insurance, a program that offers monthly Social Security Disability payments to people under age 65 who have qualifying disabilities and sufficient work credits.

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits from SSDI, you must have held qualifying employment for a certain period of time. Qualifying employment means employment in which you paid into the Social Security System. The Social Security Administration awards up to four work credits each year, based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. The amount of credit needed changes from year to year, so it is a good idea to find out what the credit amount is before you apply to make sure you have enough. These credits depend not only on the amount of money you earn, but also on your age when you become disabled. You can find much of the information you need on your Social Security Statement, available on the SSA’s website.

In addition to work credits, you must also be able to prove that you suffer from a totally disabling condition that prevents you from working. Social Security defines a disabling condition as one that prevents you doing the work you did before you became disabled, prevents you from doing other work despite your disability, and has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or to end in your death. SSDI does not provide any benefits for partial or short-term disability.

Supplemental Security Income (Title XVI, SSI)

Supplemental Security Income is a program that is strictly need-based, according to income and assets, and is funded by general fund taxes (not from the Social Security trust fund). SSI is called a "means-tested program," meaning it has nothing to do with work history, but strictly with financial need. To meet the SSI income requirements, you must have less than $2,000 in assets (or $3,000 for a couple) and a very limited income.

Disabled people who are eligible under the income requirements for SSI are also able to receive Medicaid in the state they reside in. Most people who qualify for SSI will also qualify for food stamps, and the amount an eligible person will receive is dependent on where they live and the amount of regular, monthly income they have. SSI benefits will begin on the first of the month when you first submit your application.

SSI applicants are somewhat more likely to be female as fewer women are eligible for SSDI benefits (about 71% of women compared to 79% of men), generally because women have fewer qualifying years of work (over 60% of men have worked at least part of every year of their adult life, while only 41% of women can say the same).

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