Disability, Online Services

Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits

August 12, 2021 • By

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Last Updated: August 12, 2021

woman in wheelchair holding a dog's pawsDisability is something most people don’t like to think about, but the chances that you’ll become disabled are greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age.

Social Security pays disability benefits through two programs:


  1. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.
  2. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security pays benefits to people who can’t work because they have a medical condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability. In addition to meeting our definition of disability, individuals must have worked long enough — and recently enough — under Social Security to qualify for SSDI benefits. While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not.

SSDI is funded through payroll taxes. Recipients have worked for years and have contributed to the Social Security trust fund in the form of Social Security taxes – received under either the Federal Insurance Contributions Act for employees or the Self-Employment Contributions Act for the self-employed. These taxes translate into Social Security “credits.” Qualified dependents of a disabled work may also receive benefits even though they may not have worked.

The amount needed for a work credit changes from year to year. In 2021, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,470 in wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $5,880, you’ve earned your four credits for the year.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI provides payments to people with disabilities who have low income and few resources. Although Social Security manages the program, the SSI program is funded by general tax revenues and is not paid for from Social Security taxes. Also, SSI benefits are not based on your work history.

How You Qualify

It’s important to know which benefits you may qualify to receive. Please read our publications, Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), for more information. You can also see if you meet the requirements for disability benefits on our How You Qualify page. When you apply for either program, we’ll collect medical and other information from you and make a decision about whether or not you qualify for benefits.

You can apply online for retirement, spouse’s, Medicare, or disability benefits.

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About the Author

Dawn Bystry, Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications


  1. Debra C.

    I did paid surveys on line and never received a dime. It’s a Scam.
    If social security gave people what they paid into the system for 48 and 60 years we wouldn’t be struggling to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table and paying for our medical

  2. Rolando L.

    I 71 year old I get ssa and SSI from 2011 2021 I have my daughter she is 4 years old and I not do the rectification nat because I not want to is because I forget but because that I have my case from SSI closed my question is the hra can close my case because my daughter

  3. BRYAN Z.

    I have been on SSDI since 2018. I started working a part-time job in 2020. My gross income per month is $800 and has been since I started my job in May of 2020. I understand if you gross more than $940 per month that will be a substantial gain activity month. If my income stays $800 gross per month is there any way of Social Security cancelling my SSDI benefits? I do not plan to go back to work full time due to my disability I am just working to supplement income for my doctor bills that are ongoing.

    • P.H.

      Hi Bryan, thank you for your question. Social Security has special rules that make it possible for people with disabilities receiving Social Security Disability (SSDI) to work and still receive monthly payments. These are called work incentives.

      For SSDI beneficiaries, there is a Trial Work Period (TWP) and then an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). The TWP allows you to test your ability to work for at least 9 months. During this period, you will receive your full disability benefit regardless of how much you earn as long as your work activity is reported and you continue to have a disabling impairment. In 2021, any month in which earnings exceed $940 is considered a month of the 9-month trial work period.

      Once you’ve completed your TWP, you get a 36-month safety net called the EPE. During the EPE, you get benefits for all months your earnings or work activities are below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level as long as you continue to have a disabling impairment. Social Security will suspend cash benefits for months earnings are over SGA and start benefits again if earnings fall below the SGA level. In 2021, you are earning SGA if your earnings, after any allowable deductions, are more than $1,310 in a month. Wages are taxable unless you are working for a non-covered employer.

      Check out Social Security’s Red Book for descriptions of the many work incentives. We hope this information is helpful.

  4. Crystal D.

    I get ssi I’m wandering about the restoration act is it going to be on budget bill I can’t live on what I get please answer me

  5. JoAnn G.

    I’m on disability (SSDI) explained how a person’s pay of benefits is determined for the disabled candidate. Plus, why can I r not receive SSI being my spouse and are a very low income home with my benefits being the only income for both. He is my caregiver 24/7 and he doesn’t get paid for either. How can I see if I qualify for more benefits or is there programs to assist SSDI individuals and their families? Thank you

  6. Joseph

    I have a traumatic brain injury and on SSID with a representative payee: my Assisted Living Admin, whom I don’t want to change, how do I regain access to my social security account online without becoming my own payee?

    • Susan S.

      You may have to get a power of attorney or a guardian. Try calling SSA

  7. Joseph R.

    They wait till you are almost dead before they give you your benefits, even if you worked 35 years?

    • Lewis

      I understand that, apply for 6 years ago turn down five times. They finally gave it to me this year. I’ve had two heart attacks a mini stroke high blood pressure type 2 diabetic going to have to have both of my knees replaced. I’ll porosis of the spine and can barely walk and last COPD.

    • MARY C.

      U can’t collect your disability & your retirement funds (why work) at the same time which is very wrong!!! There 2 different programs??? A slap in the face from ssa

  8. Elizabeth G.

    Thank you Social Security Insurance.

  9. Gabriel E.

    My electronic account was suspended and I’m trying to get an update on my case.

  10. Robert T.

    Hello, are you looking for extra income? Try paid surveys and other online jobs. All is easy and free.


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