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The Social Security Administration provides disability benefits to individuals through two programs that sound similar but are quite different in many ways. One feature they share is the difficulty that individuals often have in proving that they meet the requirements to be eligible for benefits.

Applicants often need to work with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney who understands the agency’s criteria and how to present persuasive evidence of their qualifications in order to achieve the full benefits to which they are entitled.

At Burgess & Christesen, we focus our practice on disability law, and we know the most efficient path to obtain benefits in a variety of situations. While each case is unique, here are some general factors to keep in mind when considering the SSDI and SSI programs.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a Form of Insurance for Workers

Although both SSDI and SSI provide benefit payments to individuals who are no longer able to work due to injury or illness, the key feature to keep in mind about Social Security Disability Insurance is that it is an insurance program for workers. That means that in order to receive benefits through the program, you must have worked and paid taxes to have earned the right to benefits. The federal government has very specific rules about how much you need to have worked—and how recently—in order to qualify.

Specifically, in addition to demonstrating that you meet the disability requirements, there must also be proof that you earned sufficient work credits. The Social Security Administration will obtain a record of your work credits from the IRS when determining whether you have earned sufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI. A work credit is based on the amount of money earned, and it changes each year. For 2024, you earn one credit each time you earn $1,730. However, you can only earn a maximum of four credits each year, and you may need as many as 40 credits to qualify for benefits. That means you need to have worked for approximately ten years to earn eligibility for SSDI benefits. If you become disabled at a young age, you will not need as many credits to qualify. However, regardless of the number of total credits you need, at least half of them must be earned within the last ten years.  

If you have not worked enough to qualify for SSDI benefits, you may still be eligible to receive SSDI income. You may qualify based on your spouse’s or parent’s work record if specific criteria are met.

The amount an individual receives in SSDI benefits is based on the tax contributions made during their career or the career of the person from whom they derive their eligibility.

Supplemental Security Income is a Support Program for Those with Limited Means

Individuals from all backgrounds, including those with no work experience, may qualify to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program if they can prove that they have very little income, few resources, and a disabling condition that prevents them from working. While SSDI applicants need to demonstrate their past work history, SSI applicants need to prove their present need for assistance.

When considering whether an individual is eligible, the agency looks at all sources of income and any asset that could be sold and used to pay for basic necessities. If you are single and own more than $2,000 in “countable” assets, then you do not qualify. However, some assets you may own do not count toward this $2,000 limit. You are allowed to own your home, a single vehicle, and personal belongings such as clothes and furniture. If you are married, the asset limit increases from $2,000 to $3,000.

One factor to note is that if you cannot work because of an accident and you receive funds from a lawsuit, you may be ineligible for SSI benefits unless you place the funds in a special needs trust or take other precautions.

Both SSDI and SSI Require You to Satisfy Disability Requirements

To receive benefits under the SSDI or SSI programs, applicants must demonstrate that they have a qualifying disability that prevents them from working for at least a year or more. Applicants who are blind or suffer severe vision impairment may qualify for benefits with slightly different rules.

Very often, individuals who apply for benefits are told they do not qualify. An experienced attorney can help you prove that you are eligible for disability benefits, either in an initial application, during a reconsideration of your application, or during an administrative hearing.

Get a Free Case Evaluation and Find Out How an Attorney Could Help

It is unfortunate that when you are injured and unable to work, the government makes it so difficult to prove that you are entitled to disability benefits. However, the team at Burgess & Christensen can help. We advocate on behalf of disabled individuals at all stages of the process, and we do not charge a fee unless the claim is approved and you are entitled to past due benefits. For a free consultation and case evaluation to learn more about how we can help, call 833-575-2798 or contact us online.