Dan Richard Cohen, Attorney at Law

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Some Terms To Help You Understand Different Social Security Programs

Applying for benefits from the Social Security Administration can be confusing, and part of the reason for that confusion is that many people do not fully understand the types of programs that are available and how the programs are defined. Many times, clients or prospective clients call me to ask about the benefits that they receive or the benefits they want to apply for, or they want to know about how changes in their circumstances may affect their benefits. Before I can give a complete answer, I need to understand what type of benefits they receive and too often they are unable to tell me. This short article is to help you understand the different programs and the terms commonly used to define them.

SSA or Social Security Administration: The Social Security Administration is a federal government agency whose responsibility to to administer programs related to social insurance such as retirement and disability benefits.

Social Security Retirement: People who meet the age criteria may be entitled to receive a retirement benefit from the Social Security Administration. Because retirement benefits are the most common type of benefit that people receive, this is often just called "Social Security". For example, someone might say “next year I am going to be 67 years old, so I will stop working and start to get my Social Security.”

Social Security Disability: Also, known as disability benefits or SSDI or just SSD. A person can qualify for disability benefits if they meet the disability criteria set forth in Social Security regulations (as discussed in a prior article) and if they have worked enough to have earned sufficient quarters of coverage (also known as credits). Sometimes, this program is referred to as Title II, which refers to the law that provides for the payment of benefits. Occasionally, some people refer to disability as SSA, which they use to distinguish it from SSI benefits, as discussed below.

SSI or Supplemental Security Income: SSI is the most common term used to refer to the Supplemental Security Income program. The most frequent error I encounter when talking to people about benefits is that SSI is used to refer to any disability related programs, as distinguished from retirement programs. But this is an incorrect usage. Entitlement to SSI benefits is based on two parts.

The first part is financial need, meaning the applicant has very limited or no income and has very limited or no resources such as savings, investments and property. If someone has not worked enough to qualify for disability benefits (SSDI) or their disability benefit falls under a certain limit, they meet the financial criteria for SSI benefits

The second part for entitlement to SSI is based on reaching age 65, being disabled under Social Security rules, or being legally blind as defined by Social Security rules.

The other important difference between SSI and SSDI is that children may qualify for SSI benefits if they have a disability and if their parents meet the financial criteria. Children will not qualify for SSDI (disability) benefits because they have not worked and earned work credits.

Social Security disability rules are complicated. Do not rely on this information alone to determine if you qualify for benefits. Contact me for your free consulation to discuss your specific situation.


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