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SSDI v SSI: What Are the Differences

Gordon, Wolf & Carney April 10, 2020

For people who are unable to work because of limitations caused by physical or mental health conditions, there are two programs for obtaining disability income administered by the Social Security Administration: Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI, and Supplemental Security Income or SSI.  While the programs are significantly different, the one common factor is that only those who are found to be “disabled” under Social Security’s criteria and process are eligible.  Being disabled under Social Security’s criteria means your severe physical or mental health conditions (or both) prevent you from engaging in “substantial gainful activity” or “SGA.”  We have described “disability” under SSA criteria more fully in other blog posts and in the Frequently Asked Questions.  Qualifying for disability benefits under either program can be difficult, but an experienced Baltimore Social Security Disability lawyer, like Gordon Wolf & Carney, can help with completing the approval process successfully. 


SSDI is an insurance program administered by the federal government, into which employees and employers contribute through payroll tax deductions.  Not all workers pay into Social Security (such as federal government employees, some teachers, etc.), which can be a real problem if they become disabled. In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, an employee would have to accumulate 20 work credit quarters out of the last 40 work quarters (roughly 5 out of the previous 10 years).  Applicants with sufficient work credits may receive SSDI benefits if their disabling conditions meet SSA’s criteria for being disabled.  SSDI awards are based on earnings and consequent contributions into SSDI. SSDI benefits are usually higher than SSI benefits. 


Being approved for SSI is different from SSDI in several respects. One is the temporary award status, as each claimant can be reevaluated annually for progression of the disabling condition and the possibility they could actually return to substantive gainful employment, also known as SGE. This applies to individuals with assets under $2000, or $3000 for a couple, and can be approved for those with temporary inability to work that will last at least one year based on documented medical evidence supporting the claim. Exemptions for one home and an automobile are allowed when assets are being evaluated, but certain assets such as pension plans, savings, or even life insurance can be included in the total asset amount. SSI programs are subject to the same disability requirements as SSDI, but they are paid through the claimant’s state of residence disability board.

If you have applied or want to apply for disability benefits under either program, contact our Baltimore Social Security Disability lawyer at Gordon Wolf & Carney for more information. There is no fee for an initial evaluation.