Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) both provide needed financial assistance to many people in the United States who have mental health conditions. The two programs are run by the US Social Security Administration (SSA).

SSDI provides monthly income to individuals who are limited in their ability to work because of a physical or mental disability. Currently almost nine million individuals receive SSDI, and as of 2013, 35.2% of recipients qualify for disability based on a mental health condition. The SSA uses its own definitions of disability and its own diagnostic criteria for determining whether or not an individual has a certain disability.

SSI provides financial assistance to low income, disabled individuals. While SSDI requires a disability and minimum past work requirements, SSI requires disability and financial need, determined by your income and current assets. Over eight million individuals currently receive SSI.

To get SSDI you will have to meet certain qualifications. In addition to meeting criteria for a disability under the SSDI rules, you must meet working requirements. The requirements are somewhat complicated, but involve having worked a certain number of years prior to making an SSDI claim, and part of that work must have been done within a certain number of years prior to becoming disabled.

Qualification for SSDI on mental health grounds can be difficult. Your claims are not reviewed by mental health professionals, and the reviewers may know little or nothing about mental health conditions. It is therefore important to include as much evidence as possible in your claim. In addition, read the SSA criteria for qualification based on your condition. If your condition is not listed, or if you don’t meet all the criteria, it may be worthwhile to examine the standards for qualification under other disabilities. Because the SSA does not use the same diagnostic system as medical professionals, you may qualify for SSDI under a condition other than that which you have been medically diagnosed with.

For SSI, the base requirement in addition to disability is that you make less than $733 per month ($1100 for couples), a limit known as the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR).

Not all of your income counts towards the income limit. Public housing assistance and food stamps not counted, as well as $65 any monthly income from work wages, and half of any work wage income above $65. It is important to remember that the value of free housing or food provided by a nongovernment source does count towards your income. Social security, pensions, and veterans benefits all count towards the income limit.

In addition unless you live in Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota or West Virginia you receive a state supplement, which increases the income limit beneath which you can qualify for SSI.

The amount of money that you receive each month from SSI is determined by adding your state supplement to the FBR ($733/month), and then subtracting your monthly income. In other words you will receive as much money as is possible without causing you to exceed the SSI income limits.

There are also asset limitations to receiving SSI. Specifically, you cannot have more than $2000 in assets as an individual. A couple can receive SSI if they have less than $3000 in assets. A child’s asset limit is equal to $2000 plus there parent’s SSI limit. SSI assets do not include your primary residence, one car, wedding and engagement rings, certain types of financial support, and burial savings up to $1500, as well as additional special exceptions.

To qualify as disabled for the purpose of received SSI, you must either meet the specific criteria for a particular disability, or be found disabled through a special Residual Function Capacity (RFC) assessment, which examines your ability to work and the degree to which your disability restricts what you are able to do. Additionally, if current substance abuse is a contributing factor to your disability, the SSA can reject your disability claim. A substance abuse disorder is itself not a valid disability for receiving SSI or SSDI. It is advisable to commit to a treatment plan so that the SSA can see that your disabilities remain when you are not engaging in substance abuse.

Where NAMI Stands

NAMI fully supports the availability of SSDI and SSI income to individuals with mental health conditions that prevent them from having regular employment. We also believe that SSI should enable people to obtain housing. This can be achieved by increasing the supply of low-cost rental housing to individuals with disabilities.

NAMI supports adjusting the diagnostic criteria used by the SSA to match those accepted in the medical professional field, and either providing basic training on mental health to SSA claims reviewers or hiring special claim evaluators with education in mental health.

The SSA’s listing of qualifying mental health conditions is not comprehensive. As part of the process of bringing the SSA into alignment with accepted medical standards, potentially debilitating disorders such as Dissociative Disorders and Tic Disorders should be added to the list of mental health conditions that can qualify an individual for SSI or SSDI.

NAMI also has concerns about the validity of standardized testing to determine workplace functionality, and believes that inmates reentering the general populations after release should be automatically reenrolled in social security benefits that they received prior to incarceration.

What NAMI is Doing

NAMI has come out against numerous pieces of legislation that would have cut social security benefits to the mentally ill. Most recently we advocated against legislation that would have denied social security to individuals with outstanding arrest warrants for felony charges, and legislation that would have cut benefits to people concurrently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI). The provisions were removed from the transportation bill of which they were a part.

Previously we have warned against the dangers of allowing SSDI to deplete in 2016, which will happen unless legislation is passed to save it. Otherwise, SSDI benefits could be cut by up to 19%, which could result in some people not having enough money to live on. This issue is a continuing part of our policy agenda and we will continue to follow what happens and advocate for protecting SSDI benefits.

NAMI has also supported legislation that would have incentivized states to reinstate Medicaid benefits to prisoners upon their release, and provide provisional social security assistance to anyone released from prison until it could be determined that they were no longer eligible.

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