The Difference Between SSDI and SSI (and Why It Matters)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are government benefits for clients with disabilities. However, clients may not know which one of the two they are receiving since the check they receive each month doesn’t specifically list which program the funds are from. Clients generally just know that they are receiving a check from Social Security.

As a personal injury attorney, it’s important that you know exactly which government benefits your clients are receiving since receiving a personal injury settlement can jeopardize ongoing eligibility for some benefits.

What Qualifies a Client for SSDI?

A client has to have sufficient work history within the last ten years to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI or SSD). SSDI is an entitlement program in that a client must have worked a certain number of eligible work quarters (and thereby paid payroll taxes into the system) in order to be eligible. 

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income is a safety net program for those who have a low income, few assets, and are disabled. The SSI amount that most recipients receive is $783 per month (as of 2020).

The Importance of Knowing if a Client is Receiving SSDI or SSI

SSI. Eligibility for SSI benefits is based on both income and assets. If the client receives a settlement check, and the check puts their countable assets over the limit (generally $2,000), then that client will likely lose their SSI benefit. As you know in working with your clients, they certainly don’t want to lose their SSI, and so it’s important that you as their attorney engage a settlement planning attorney to help the client plan ahead and avoid a loss of benefits.

In addition, clients who are on SSI are also usually on Medicaid, and in many states, if a client loses eligibility for SSI, they will also lose eligibility for Medicaid.

SSDI. If your client is receiving SSDI, the receipt of a legal settlement will have no impact on their ongoing eligibility for SSDI benefits. Again, this is because SSDI benefits are entitlement benefits that recipients are entitled to receive because they’ve “paid into the system” for a sufficient amount of time.

If your clients have been receiving SSDI for more than two years, they become automatically eligible for Medicare. So, if your client is receiving a check from the Social Security Administration of more than $783 and the client receives Medicare, it’s very likely he or she receives SSDI benefits. 

In short, if the client is receiving SSI, attorneys need to do some settlement planning before sending the client a settlement check to prevent the client’s loss of SSI (and potentially Medicaid) benefits. 

If your client receives SSDI, there is no special preparation needed because a personal injury settlement will not impact ongoing eligibility for these benefits.

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