Mike Kueber's Blog

November 20, 2012

Disability protection – SSI vs. SSDI

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:56 pm
Tags: , ,

I recently read an article suggesting that even lawyers are confused between SSI and SSDI.  Well, I confess to being a poster child for that confusion.  Until today, I didn’t even realize those acronyms were two separate concepts.  Instead I thought they referred to the same thing.  Furthermore, I thought I was smarter than the average bear because I knew that SSI – Supplemental Security Income – was a form of welfare that was dispensed by the Social Security administration and that it was funded out of the government’s general fund, not its Social Security trust fund.

Today I learned while reading Tom Coburn’s book titled The Debt Bomb that there is a separate program call SSDI – Social Security Disability Insurance – that not only is dispensed by the Social Security administration, but also is funded out of the Social Security trust fund.

Eureka moment – no wonder one is called income and the other is called insurance.

What is the difference between the two programs?  From what I can gather, they both are triggered by the same sort of disability, but the payout under SSDI, which is based on an individual’s earnings record, is usually more generous than SSI, which is a form of welfare available only to poor people regardless of their earning records (or lack thereof).

Coburn’s book states that SSDI in 2011 paid out $129.7 billion in benefits while taking in only $110.9 billion.  That explains why the SSDI trust fund will be broke by the end of the decade while the Social Security retiree trust fund will be solvent until the 2030s.  There are 10.6 million Americans collecting SSDI.  A previous posting in my blog noted that SSI, the sixth most costly part of America’s safety net, costs $43.7 billion a year, with 8.1 million beneficiaries.     

Conservatives often rail about a culture of dependence (as well as disability fraud) growing in America, and the SSDI program seems to confirm that:

  • There are 10.6 million Americans collecting SSDI today, but in 2002 there were only 7.2 million.
  • The share of the U.S. population receiving SSDI benefits has risen rapidly over the past two decades, from 2.2 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in 1985 to 4.1 percent in 2005.

I disagree with conservatives who commonly argue that America’s budgetary problems can be solved by eliminating waste and fraud in government.  But I wish our exploding costs for SSDI and SSI (and military disability) received a bit more scrutiny from those in Washington.



  1. I would posit that more than half of government spending is waste, fraud, and theft. Perhaps as high as 75-80%. Could it be even higher?

    If the governments’ responsibilities are to protect our shores, keep us secure, help with our infrastructure, and protect (not usurp) our freedom(s), perhaps the waste, fraud, and theft number is in the 90+ percentile.

    Comment by bobbevard — November 20, 2012 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

    • Bob, I would posit that you omitted a core government function that even Kevin Brown concedes – i.e., care for the crippled, blind, and truly disabled. Yes, some days he will say that is the responsibility of charitable organizations. And perhaps this should be a state & local responsibility, not the feds.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — November 23, 2012 @ 12:38 am | Reply

      • I think that is a family function, not a Federal function. Should there be NO immediate family, then it belongs to an organization or agency closer to the individual than Washington D.C.

        Comment by bobbevard — November 23, 2012 @ 6:57 am

  2. […] few months ago, I blogged about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and contrasted it with Supplemental Security […]

    Pingback by SSDI reform may be in the offing | Mike Kueber's Blog — April 9, 2013 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

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