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To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have worked long enough in jobs covered by Social Security (usually 10 years). Then, you must have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability.

People who are severely disabled may be eligible for monthly benefits. Both the Social Security program and the Supplemental Security Income program provide a monthly income for people with severe disabilities. However, the non-medical eligibility requirements for the two programs are different.

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays benefits to disabled workers and their families. To be eligible for SSDI, you must be disabled and must have earned a minimum number of credits from work covered under Social Security. (The required number of credits varies depending on your age at the time you became disabled.)

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly income to people who are age 65 or older, or are blind or disabled, and have limited income and financial resources.

In 2020, the maximum SSI payment for an eligible individual is $783 per month and $1,175 per month for an eligible couple. If you are married, and only one person is eligible, a portion of your spouse's income may be counted.  

You can be eligible for SSI even if you have never worked in employment covered under Social Security. No SSI benefits are paid to family members, only to the disabled person.

Generally, to be eligible for SSI, an individual also must be a resident of the United States and must be a citizen or a noncitizen lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Also, some non-citizens granted a special status by the Immigration and Naturalization Service may be eligible.

Whether you can get SSI also depends on what you own and how much income you have. Income is the money you have coming in, such as wages, Social Security benefits and pensions. Income also includes non-cash items you receive such as food, clothing or shelter.

If you're married, SSI also looks at the income of your spouse and the things he or she owns. If you're under 18, SSI may look at the income of your parents and the things they own. And, if you're a sponsored alien, SSI also may look at the income of your sponsor and what he or she owns.


The amount of income you can have each month and still get SSI depends partly on where you live. You can call SSI at 1-800-772-1213 to find out the income limits in your state. Social Security doesn't count all of your income when deciding if you can get SSI. For example, they don't count:

  • the first $20 of most income received in a month;

  • the first $65 a month you earn from working and half the amount over $65;

  • food stamps;

  • shelter you get from private nonprofit organizations; and

  • most home energy assistance.

If you are a student, some of the wages or scholarships you receive may not count.

If you are disabled but work, Social Security does not count any wages you use to pay for items or services you need to work because of your disability. For example, if you need a wheelchair, the wages you use to pay for the wheelchair don't count as income.

Also, Social Security does not count any wages a blind person uses to pay expenses that are caused by working. For example, if a blind person uses wages to pay for transportation to and from work, the transportation cost isn't counted as income.

If you're disabled or blind, some of the income you use (or save) for training or to buy things you need to work or earn more money may not count.

For more information please refer to "Disability" (Publication No. 05-10029) and "SSI" (Publication No. 05-11000).