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Why Do I Qualify for SSI, but not for SSDI?
Insight from Tom Nash

February 6, 2019

One of the most common exchanges in our office relates to confusion people have about which type of disability benefits they may qualify for. It is extremely common for people to get the names and the “alphabet soup” of nicknames for the benefits mixed up. Let me help clear up the confusion.

There are two disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance, which is known as SSDI, and Supplemental Security Income, commonly referred to as SSI. SSDI pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are disabled and you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes recently enough. SSI, on the other hand, is based on financial need. The Social Security Administration says, “It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

Many people are found disabled, but are eligible for SSI (“Title 16 “) only. Because a person’s work “earnings credits” may not be enough for SSDI benefits or not recent enough, it is not uncommon for such people to qualify only for SSI. Often this comes as a surprise to our clients. Those who are awarded SSI benefits may then qualify for continued Medicaid, but not Medicare. Medicare only comes with SSDI, the benefit based on one’s wage record. (For more on qualifying for Medicare or Medicaid see our website blog post: Question of the Month: If I Am Found Disabled, Do I Qualify for Medicare?)

There are many reasons an individual may only qualify for SSI and not SSDI. These include:

  • The work which included paying FICA taxes was too far in the past. This is often the result of a long-term illness and/or failure to pursue a claim soon enough.
  • An individual’s earnings went unreported, including work for cash.
  • The work performed was for an employer where FICA taxes were not withheld. Locally, Cook County and the City of Chicago generally do not withhold FICA taxes, but do withhold Medicare taxes. Likewise, Illinois teachers contribute to the Teacher Retirement System, not FICA. And certain state university workers contribute to the State University Retirement System (SURS) instead of contributing to FICA. Keep in mind, these are just a few examples.
  • The amount of FICA taxes paid was too limited or uneven, often due to the very health problems which are the subject of the claim.
  • Large amounts of work time were missed due to caregiving for a family member.

A lawyer can make a very big difference in your life by helping to establish your disability. However, only in very, very rare cases will your employment history and wage record under Social Security change.

This, of course, is just a brief overview of the complex subject of Social Security disability benefits. It is understandable that many people find the disability process confusing. But that is where we can help. It is our passion at Nash Disability Law to help disabled people get the benefits they deserve and explain how the system works. If you are considering applying for Social Security disability or your application for benefits has been turned down, call the local Chicago attorneys at Nash Disability Law, or email us for a free evaluation of your situation.