Social Security Disability Benefits

There are two separate disability benefits programs that are managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA):

  1. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and
  2. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

These two very different programs share many concepts and terms; however, they have very different rules affecting eligibility, benefit payments, health insurance and work incentives. Click here for a general description of these 2 programs.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program for the aged, blind and/or disabled with limited income and resources. SSI provides:

  1. a monthly cash stipend, and
  2. Medicaid health insurance (called Mass Health in Massachusetts)

Often, students turning 18 years of age are eligible for Supplemental Security Income if they are not able to work or earn more than a specific amount of money per month. This amount is called the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level, which in 2017 is $1,170 gross earnings per month. Specifically, students may be eligible based on their income and resources:

  • Income: In order to be eligible for SSI, an adult applicant (over age 18) must be not working or earning less than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level for that year. The SGA level for 2017 is $1,170/month. Once on SSI, a recipient can earn more than that amount and continue to receive both SSI cash and medical benefits.
  • Resources: The SSI resource limit (money in a bank account) is $2,000 for an individual in the year 2017. This includes cash savings, stocks/bonds, houses, cars, boats, etc. If the resource limit is exceeded, eligibility may be reestablished once the excess resources have been “spent down” below the resource limit.

Click here for a more detailed overview of SSI.

If your son or daughter is approaching age 18, and you believe he/she may be eligible for SSI, click here for information about how to apply.

The Social Security Administration’s official and detailed SSI Booklet can be found here.

It is important for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries to understand that they can work and continue to receive cash and medical benefits. In fact, someone who is working and receiving SSI cash benefits will have more income than someone who is receiving SSI alone. Also, a recipient who no longer receives SSI cash benefits because of earnings from work can continue to receive Medicaid until they reach a financial threshold.

A number of Work Incentives/Supports exist to help SSI recipients to continue receiving your SSI checks and/or Medicaid coverage while you work.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

This program provides cash and/or medical benefits (Medicare) to people who are blind or have a disability and are “insured” by workers’ contributions to the Social Security trust fund. SSDI monies come from the FICA social security taxes they’ve paid from their earnings.

To be eligible for SSDI you must:

  1. Have worked and paid Social Security taxes (FICA) for enough years to be covered; or be the worker’s widow(er) or “disabled adult child” (DAC). Among the requirements for a disabled adult child, the individual must be unmarried, is or was dependent on parent, age 18 or over, and the disability must have begun before age 22;
  2. Meet SSA’s definition of medically disabled; and
  3. Not be working or earning less than SGA ($1170/month in 2017).

Work Incentives make it easier for people with disabilities to work and still receive medical benefits and, in some cases, cash benefits from Social Security. Click here to learn more.

For more information on work incentives, see the Social Security Administration’s:  The Red Book – A Guide to Work Incentives