Social Security Disability and
Supplemental Security Income
SSA Administers Two Disability Programs,
Both Include Incentives to Work
The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays cash benefits
to people whom, due to a physical or mental disability that
is expected to last more than a year or result in death, are
unable to earn a substantial wage.
For 2002, earnings of more than $780 per month or more
than $1,300 per month for individuals who are blind are
considered substantial earnings. These amounts are adjusted
each year based on increases in national average wages.
SSA administers two disability programs, Social Security
Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Social Security disability benefits are an earned benefit.
Workers pay Social Security taxes into the system and earn
work credits based on how much they earn. If a person becomes
disabled they may be eligible to receive benefits based on
The benefit amount is based on a personís average lifetime
earnings. The number of work credits a person has earned
determines eligibility for benefits. The number of work
credits needed for disability benefits depends on the
individualís age when the disabling condition begins.
The spouse and dependent children of a disability beneficiary
may also qualify.
Social Security disability pays an average monthly benefit
of $815 to approximately 5.1 million workers with disabilities.
In addition, some 1.6 million members of their families
receive monthly benefits.
SSI is a federal program that makes monthly payments to
people with disabilities who have limited income and assets.
The program is administered by the Social Security Administration,
but the payments are financed by the general revenue funds,
not from Social Security taxes.
Eligibility is based on financial need. SSI eligibility
depends on what people own and how much income they have.
Income includes items such as wages, Social Security benefits
and pensions. Income also includes non-cash items received,
such as food, clothing or shelter. People who have never
worked or have not worked long enough to qualify for Social
Security benefits may be eligible for SSI. People also
may be eligible for both Social Security and SSI benefits.
There are no benefit provisions for a spouse and dependent
Approximately 3.8 million adults with disabilities (age
18 to 64) receive SSI. Many of these SSI beneficiaries
also receive Social Security disability.
Health insurance is critically important to people with
disabilities. The Social Security disability and SSI disability
programs both offer health care coverage.
Medicare is the Federal health insurance plan. People
who receive Social Security disability benefits for 24 months
are eligible for Medicare.
Medicaid is a state health benefit for people who
have limited income and assets. Most SSI disability beneficiaries
are eligible for Medicaid, which is administered by the
There are special rules, called work incentives, which make
it possible for Social Security and SSI disability beneficiaries
to work and still receive monthly payments and Medicare or Medicaid.
Social Security disability beneficiaries may attempt
to work during a trial work period. While working, they
have extended eligibility for monetary benefits and may
continue to receive Medicare.
A Trial Work Period (TWP) allows individuals to test
their ability to work for at least nine months. During
the TWP, beneficiaries receive full Social Security
disability benefits regardless of the amount they earn.
After completion of nine trial work months, SSA determines
if a person has substantial earnings. If earnings are
not substantial, full benefits generally continue. If
earnings are more than the substantial level, cash benefits
are normally suspended while Medicare continues.
For at least three years after a TWP, Social Security
disability beneficiaries may receive a monetary benefit
for any month that earnings are below the substantial
earnings level. Benefits may resume without a new application.
Medicare coverage may continue for up to eight years
and six months after beneficiaries go to work, even
if they no longer receive a monetary benefit.
SSI disability beneficiaries continue to receive
payments and Medicaid benefits when they return to work.
Working SSI disability beneficiaries may continue to
receive payments even if their earnings are more than
the substantial level. Other income combined with earnings
may cause payments to end if total income exceeds SSI
Medicaid coverage may continue for SSI beneficiaries
who earn more than the substantial level. Medicaid continues
even if a person no longer receives a monetary benefit,
as long as they depend on Medicaid in order to work.
Benefits may continue, under both programs, if a person
medically recovers while participating in a vocational rehabilitation
SSA Press Office 449
Altmeyer Bldg. 6401 Security Blvd. Baltimore, MD 21235
410-965-8904 FAX 410-966-9973