Recently, someone who had been receiving Supplemental Security Income for several years asked me if they could switch to receiving Social Security Disability Income.
The short answer to this question is yes, it’s possible, but it’s rarely doable.
First, a quick rundown of how the two programs work. SSDI is the program that you pay into with payroll taxes, and it has several benefits over SSI. Since its attached to earnings, your monthly benefit can range from a few hundred dollars a month to more than $3,000 a month.
If you work part-time under a certain amount after being found disabled, your SSDI benefits will not be reduced. SSDI recipients also receive Medicare two years after their onset of disability.
SSI is a need-based program. It’s capped at $794 a month, and Social Security uses a complex formula to look at things like housing and any other sources of income to reduce this monthly benefit for many individuals. Working part-time also causes SSI to be reduced. SSI recipients are not eligible for Medicare.
The key to qualifying for SSDI once you’re receiving SSI is work credits. Currently, you receive one work credit for every $1,470 you earn in a calendar year, and you can earn up to four work credits. While Social Security takes age into account to determine insured status, you generally need 40 work credits, with 20 of them earned in the last 10 years, to qualify for SSDI.
Since annual earnings of $5,880 would still be considered part-time, it would be possible for someone receiving SSI to earn enough become insured and qualify for SSDI, but doing so would reduce their monthly SSI benefit. And due to medical conditions, it’s just not possible for many SSI recipients to even work that much.
Another option would be for an SSI recipient who was previously insured to seek benefits going back to when they were qualified for SSDI, but given that such claims sometimes involve alleging disability 10 or 15 years prior and most medical facilities destroy their records in that period of time, these claims are rarely successful. Still, it can be worth at least discussing this situation with an attorney if it might apply to you.