Two different Social Security programs pay benefits to people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you are considering accepting financial assistance from friends or family, it may affect your SSI eligibility. Financial assistance can disqualify you for SSI benefits, but not SSDI benefits. Generally, cash gifts reduce your SSI eligibility dollar for dollar.
Before you accept a financial gift, contact the disability lawyers at Berger and Green. We can help you understand the financial requirements of the SSI program before you apply for disability. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to schedule a free consultation.
What Is the Difference Between SSDI and SSI?
SSDI is an earned benefit that you paid for with the money withheld from your paychecks over the years in the form of Social Security taxes. As long as you do not have earned income over the monthly limit and you meet all the other requirements, you are eligible for SSDI.
SSI is a needs-based assistance program for disabled people with low income and very few assets. You do not need to have paid into the Social Security system to qualify for SSI.
What Is the Monthly Income Limit for SSDI?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not pay you SSDI benefits if your monthly earned income exceeds the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount. The SGA for 2017 is $1,170 per month, or $1,950 for people who are legally blind. If you earn more than the SGA amount, the SSA will find that you are able to earn enough to support yourself and you will not qualify for disability.
What Counts Toward the Income Limit for SSDI?
The SSA has a specific definition for the income that counts toward the SSDI limit. They define gainful activity as:
- Work done for pay or profit;
- A type of work usually done for pay or profit; or
- Work done in pursuit of pay or profit, whether or not you actually received payment or profit.
As long as the financial assistance from your family or friends does not fall within one of these three categories, it does not count as income when determining eligibility for SSDI benefits. It will not affect your benefits.
What Counts as Income for the SSI Program?
The SSI program is a safety net to prevent disabled people from being destitute, whether they paid into the Social Security system or not. To ensure only the truly needy qualify for benefits, the SSA considers more sources of income when determining eligibility for SSI.
In the SSI program, countable income includes:
- Earned income, which can include wages, self-employment net earnings, sheltered workshop payments, honoraria, and some royalties;
- Unearned income, meaning all income you received but did not work to earn, such as cash from family and friends, unemployment benefits, interest income, pensions, state disability payments, and Social Security benefits;
- In-Kind income, which includes things like food or shelter you received for free or at a reduced cost; and
- Deemed income, which includes the money your spouse in your household earns, and in the case of minor children it includes the income that parents earn.
Can My Friends or Family Help Me Without Affecting My SSI Check?
Yes, but they must be careful how they do so. For example, if they give you money to pay your electric bill, it will count as income for the purposes of SSI. If they pay your bill directly on your behalf, it does not count as income to you. Also, if they lend you money that you will have to repay, the borrowed money can stay outside of countable income, but you will have to have a written agreement to pay them back which is not contingent on receiving SSI.
How Does My Countable Income Affect My SSI Benefit?
Your countable income can reduce the amount of your monthly SSI check or render you ineligible for benefits altogether. If you are eligible for SSI, the SSA will calculate the amount of your SSI check by:
- Subtracting any income that is not countable from your total gross income to determine your countable income; then
- Subtracting your countable income from the SSI Federal benefit rateto get your SSI federal benefit.
For example, if the SSI federal benefit rate is $735 a month and your countable income is $200 a month, your SSI federal benefit will be $535 a month. If your state provides a state SSI supplement, it will be in addition to the SSI federal benefit amount.
Call the Lawyers at Berger and Green for Help Getting Disability Benefits.
The laws on SSDI and SSI are complex. The vast majority of people receive a denial for benefits the first time they apply.
Berger and Green can help. Our attorneys can review your application before you apply. If the SSA denied your claim, we can handle your appeal. Call our disability lawyers today at 412-661-1400 for your free consultation.