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What degrees of disability exist in Social Security and how do they affect payments?

The Social Security Administration offers two major programmes to provide financial support for people with disabilities, each designed for a different group.

The Social Security Administration offers two major programmes to provide financial support for people with disabilities, each designed for a different group.
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Two key programmes overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA) offer financial aid to people with disabilities. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programmes are the largest forms of disability assistance overseen by the federal government, but there is some confusion about how they operate.

Both are only available to individuals who meet certain medical criteria but the severity of the recipient’s disability does not affect the size of the payment on offer. There are a list of conditions which would qualify a recipient for the benefits if they have one.

Recipients who meet the medical requirements will then receive a payment that is based on other factors, such as their age, income level, earning history and personal situation. The medical requirements for both programmes are the same and must be expected to last for at least one year or until death.

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Who is eligible to receive SSI and SSDI payments?

At a glance it may seem like the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income are very similar programmes. However the funding process and eligibility for each is very different and the two programmes are designed to offer support for different groups of people with disabilities.

Social Security Disability Insurance: SSDI pays benefits to the individual with disabilities and to selected family members if the subject of the programme has worked for long enough and paid sufficient Social Security taxes to qualify.

Supplemental Security Income: In contrast, SSI provides benefits for all adults and children with disabilities who have “limited income and resources”, regardless of their earnings history.

The changing demographics of the United States has altered the number of people who are eligible to receive SSDI, SSI, and other Social Security programmes as the general population grows older. Baby boomers, the generation of Americans from the post-war years of high birth rates, are now in the stage of their lives where they are most likely to require disability support.

Another factor is the growth in the number of women in the workplace over the past few decades, which has meant that more people satisfy the earnings history requirements of the SSDI. These trends have meant that there are now more people in receipt of disability support from the SSA than at any point in the past.

However the SSA makes clear: “Despite the increase, the 9 million or so people getting Social Security disability benefits represent just a small subset of Americans living with disabilities.”


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