In 1956, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was added as a way to qualify for full Social Security benefits prior to reaching “Full Retirement Age” (providing you can prove the medical requirements). Simply put, SSDI is a government run disability insurance policy just like Medicare is a government run health insurance policy. The “premiums” for these policies are, in fact, the FICA taxes we pay on income. The good news is that, unlike most private plans, coverage doesn’t immediately end if you miss a premium. How long you are covered after you stop paying depends on a somewhat complicated formula based on the number of quarterly “work credits” your taxes have earned. Since it varies, based on the amount of money you earn and how long you have worked, we often go by the rule of thumb that you are probably still covered if you have worked in the last five years.
For people who don’t qualify for SSDI, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was passed in 1971.
It acts like a disability policy for children and other people who have never worked, as well as people whose Social Security Insurance coverage has expired. However, SSI almost always provides a smaller monthly benefit and it provides Medicaid health insurance instead of Medicare. Furthermore, since it is a “needs based” system it considers all sorts of financial factors.
To determine if the claimant is eligible for SSI, the claimant has to meet the Social Security definition of “needy”. This is why the application for SSI (see form SSA-8000-BK in the forms section) can seem a little complicated. Also keep in mind that, because of the differences in the two programs, a claimant may qualify for benefits under both programs.
For these and other reasons, Attorneys handling the application often recommend that the claimant apply for both on the principle that it’s better to ask for something you don’t end up qualifying for, than to lose a benefit to which you are entitled.
You can usually count on the folks at your local Social Security District office to handle application issues properly. They are well trained and have access to more information. For some claimants though, especially those who have transportation difficulties along with severe medical problems, this can be an ordeal. They prefer a “full service” disability law firm that is able to handle the application as well as the medical and vocational issues that are addressed in a hearing with a judge. Also, since law is a profession and not merely a business, an attorney should also tell them when they simply don’t need to pay an attorney because their case is so strong. In those instances, a little advice on filling out the forms and mailing them in may be all that is needed.
If you have to fight all the way to a hearing, Judges recommend the help of an independent attorney with extensive experience in Social Security Administrative law to represent you.