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The Difference Between SSI Benefits and SSDI Benefits

Gordon, Wolf & Carney Jan. 24, 2022

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI) are federal disability programs offering financial aid to the disabled. Many people who are eligible for SSI may also be entitled to SSDI benefits, but the two programs have very different eligibility requirements. SSDI is available to individuals who have worked long enough to earn sufficient work credits and paid Social Security payroll taxes. SSI benefits are not based on prior work history and may be available to low-income people who aren’t working or don’t have sufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI.

Below is an overview of SSI and SSDI to help you understand the difference between the programs.

Supplemental Security Income Benefits (SSI)

SSI is a means-tested program financed by the general funds of the U.S. Treasury. SSI recipients may also qualify for medical assistance (Medicaid) to pay for doctor bills, prescriptions drugs, hospital stays, and other health care costs. To qualify for SSI benefits, you must be disabled, blind, or at least 65 years old and have limited income and resources. You must also be a U.S. citizen or national, or a qualified alien and a resident of one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands.

In some instances, children under 18 years may be eligible for SSI. Disability is defined differently for children, however. From birth to age 18, the medical standard is based on the severity of the disability and the impact of the child’s condition on functional abilities. Additionally, the child’s parent or guardian must be low-income and have limited resources.

Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI)

SSDI benefits are accrued through payroll taxes – either the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) or the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA) – that you paid to the federal government during your working life. SSDI benefits help individuals who can’t work because of a medical condition or injury that will last more than a year or result in death. To qualify for SSDI, you must have what is called a qualifying disability. This means you cannot work or engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to your medical condition. It must be determined that you are not able to do the work you did previously and you are not able to adjust to any other work available in the national economy because of the limitations caused by your medical condition.

Keep in mind that when you make an application and send it to your state’s disability determination services (DDS) office, an examiner will investigate and evaluate whether your medical evidence supports the disability claim. If you are approved, you’ll receive notification via a letter showing the amount you’ll receive. If you are denied at the initial application stage, you have a right to appeal the determination. An initial application denial is appealed for reconsideration. Denials at reconsideration are appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for a hearing.

How Gordon Wolf & Carney Attorneys Can Help You Get SSI and SSDI Benefits

The application for disability benefits can be challenging. Most people who apply on their own have their claim denied. At Gordon, Wolf & Carney, our job is to help navigate you through the process and to secure full benefits for you without unnecessary hassles or long, costly delays. As your attorney, we’re there to handle your claim for you from start to finish so that you can focus on your health and well-being.

We will Undertake a Thorough Assessment of Your Application

When you apply for SSDI, you must be able to show that you meet the U.S. Social Security Administration’s definition of “disabled.” This means that if you are working at all, your monthly earnings are not more than a certain amount. You must have a medically determinable impairment that significantly limits your ability to do basic tasks like sitting, walking, standing, lifting, and/or interferes with your mental stamina. These limitations must have existed or be expected to last for a period of at least 12 months or longer. In addition, you must demonstrate not only that you can’t do your current (or last) job, but that there is no other work in the national economy that you can do.

All that is a lot to undertake, especially on your own. SSA will determine your eligibility for SSDI. They will make specific determinations as to whether or to what extent your condition limits your ability to work and if there is any exertional level at which you might be able to maintain employment. SSA maintains a comprehensive list of individual medical conditions categorized by each of the major organ systems. Be warned, however, the listing of impairments can be tricky! Just because you have a condition that is on that list, it does not mean that Social Security will find that you meet the listing and find you disabled. In order to meet a listing impairment, you must meet ALL of the requirements for that listing and the exact criteria for your condition. Unfortunately, SSA may deny your benefits even if you are disabled and can’t work.

We Will Ensure that Your Application Moves Forward

On average, a disability benefit claimant will wait six months before getting feedback on the status of their claim for benefits. If your claim gets denied, the process will take even longer. Hiring the right lawyer to help you is the key to success. We will make sure your paperwork is completed properly and help you deal with the SSA for a speedy approval of your claim. From safeguarding that your medical records are complete and duly considered to briefing your case for the judge, we will build the strongest case possible to ensure that you do not lose out on benefits you deserve.

A Lawyer Will Help You Fight Against a Denial

Roughly 70% of people who apply for SSDI benefits are initially denied. The experienced SSDI attorneys at Gordon, Wolf & Carney will assist and fight for you at every step along the way. If you are denied, we will appeal your case through multiple levels of the administrative process and, if necessary, file for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who will adjudicate your claim. Roughly 25% of applicants who are ultimately approved for SSDI/SSI benefits are awarded them at the hearing level.

A disability hearing is a judicial proceeding, but very different rules apply from a court trial. Hearings are far less formal than a court proceeding and, since the COVID-19 pandemic, most (if not all) hearings are now held by online video or telephone.

The ALJ will review your file prior to the hearing and be familiar with the evidence in your file. The judge will ask you questions about your work history and your current medical condition. SSA will present testimony from its own medical and vocational experts who, although they do not know you and have never met you, will testify as to your skill level and your mental and physical capacity to maintain employment.

According to a study by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), people who have an attorney to represent them at the hearing are 3 times more likely to be approved. Your claim is also subject to strict time limitations at every stage along the way within which you must act to protect your right to benefits. That is why you need the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney who will ensure that you are prepared for your hearing, advocate on your behalf, and make a solid case in order to win your case.

If you are ready to apply for Social Security disability benefits or in the process and have to appeal a claim denial, don’t go it alone! The experienced Baltimore Social Security Disability Lawyers at Gordon, Wolf & Carney are here to help you get the benefits you need.