What Are the Differences Between SSI and SSA Benefits?

The Social Security Administration reported paying monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security benefits to more than 66 million people in 2016. These programs target the financial needs of different segments of the population, use different eligibility criteria and have different payment thresholds. Their sources of financing also differ. The U.S. Department of the Treasury funds SSI, while payroll taxes fund Social Security. Under certain circumstances, an individual can receive benefits from both.

SSI Eligibility

The fact that SSI does not consider work history distinguishes it from Social Security benefits. Congress created SSI in 1972 to provide a financial safety net for the disabled and those 65 years old with little or no income. Blind or disabled children and adults can receive SSI provided they meet four criteria: U.S. citizenship, U.S. residency, limited income and limited assets.

The Social Security Administration applies what it calls a "strict definition" when determining disability status. It does not recognize short-term or partial disabilities. Eligibility for low-income adults hinges on their income and assets. The SSA considers a variety of factors in its financial analysis. However, it excludes home ownership when calculating available resources, which must fall below $2,000 limit for unmarried adults and $3,000 for couples. According to SSA, most Supplemental Security Income recipients qualify for Medicaid assistance for health care.

Social Security Eligibility

Social Security provides financial support for retirees, children and spouses of deceased workers and dependent parents of deceased workers. A work-credit system determines survivor and retirement benefits. Ten years of employment during which Social Security taxes were paid earns the 40 credits needed to qualify for full entitlement.

Survivors – children and the caregiver spouse – qualify when a worker accumulates six credits within three years of death. Widows and widowers without dependent children can claim Social Security at age 60 based on the deceased's work credits. Divorced spouses from a 10-year marriage can receive the survivor benefit at age 62. Unmarried biological, adopted and stepchildren must be under the age of 18. The age cutoff extends another year for full-time high school students. Should a disability strike prior to age 22, an unmarried child can receive survivor benefits past age 18. Retirees can opt to request their Social Security benefit at age 62, the same age their spouse achieves eligibility.

Benefit Payouts

As of 2018, the monthly SSI payment maxes out at $750 for individuals and $1,125 for couples. However, state supplements can increase these amounts. The SSA lists Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia as the only states without a supplemental program. Payments are released on the first of the month. Distribution of Social Security payments, on the other hand, depends on the day of the month the worker of record was born. In January 2018, individual retirees received an average of $1,404 per month, while the average monthly benefit for retired couples was $2,340.

Social Security Disability Insurance

The Social Security Administration has a second disability program called Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. Eligibility requirements include FICA payroll tax payments and a mental or physical disability, including blindness, that precludes working, will last at least a year or leads to death. Monthly benefits reflect the worker's Social Security-taxed earnings. SSDI recipients qualify for Medicare automatically after two years. Benefits can extend to family members as outlined for SSI.