Social security

What’s the difference between SSI and regular social security?

Learn how Social Security benefits differ from Supplemental Security Income, and how both federal benefits programs compare.

3 min read

The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages various safety net programs for qualified retired workers, people with disability, as well as spouses, children, and survivors of eligible workers. Two of the most prominent benefits programs are Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income.

Social Security benefits are payments made to eligible retired workers, people with disabilities, and dependents of eligible workers. You must have paid Social Security taxes to qualify for these benefits. On the other hand, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are paid to older retired workers and people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. You don’t have to have worked in a covered job to be eligible for SSI benefits.

What is regular Social Security?

Social Security benefits, also known as the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI), is a safety net program that provides benefits to retired workers, their spouses, children, and people with disabilities. The amount of benefits a person receives is based on their earnings history and the age at which they start collecting benefits.

Social Security benefits are funded with payroll taxes under FICA and SECA. These funds are deposited into the Social Security Trust Fund, from where Social Security benefits are paid to retirees, disabled workers, and dependents of eligible workers. Surplus funds are invested in interest-bearing federal debt instruments.

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a benefits program that pays benefits to older adults and people with disabilities that are unable to meet their basic financial needs. To qualify for SSI, you must be 65 or older, have a disability, and have limited or no income and resources. They must have residency in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.

As of 2022, eligible individuals must not have assets exceeding $2,000, or $3,000 for couples. Minor children below 18 may be considered eligible for SSI benefits if they have a disability that must result in severe limitations, has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months, or is expected to result in death.

Some states may also pay supplementary income to individuals who are collecting SSI checks. The additional payments increase the monthly SSI payments and the allowed income for SSI eligibility. The supplementary income varies across states. However, several states like West Virginia, Arizona, North Dakota, Mississippi, and the Northern Mariana Islands do not supplement the federal SSI benefits.

Regular Social Security vs. SSI: Key Differences

Most people who are eligible for Social Security benefits may also qualify for SSI benefits. However, these two federal benefits vary in the following ways:

Covered job

Social Security benefits work like an insurance program, where only workers who paid Social Security taxes are eligible to receive benefits. You must have worked long enough in a covered job and accumulated 40 credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. However, SSI benefits are not based on your past work history or your spouse’s work history, and you may be eligible for SSI payments even if you did not work in a covered job.

Source of funds

Social Security benefits are paid from the Social Security Funds Trust, which is funded by payroll taxes under FICA and SECA. This means that a portion of the Social Security taxes paid by covered workers is used to pay benefits to eligible workers. In comparison, SSI payments are not funded by Social Security taxes; instead, these benefits are paid from the general revenues of the US Treasury, which may comprise income taxes, corporate taxes, and other types of taxes.

Additional benefits

If you are receiving SSI benefits, you may be eligible to receive supplementary payments from your state. Also, you may be eligible for food assistance, and your application for SSI payments may serve as an application for food assistance. However, Social Security benefits recipients do not receive additional state benefits, nor are they eligible for food assistance.


In most states, SSI recipients are eligible for Medicaid. This assistance helps pay for hospital stays, prescription drugs, doctor visits, and other costs.

Similarities between regular Social Security and SSI

Here are similarities between Social Security benefits and SSI:


Both federal programs are managed by the Social Security Administration. You can apply for both benefits through SSA.

Monthly benefits

Both Social Security benefits and SSI payments are paid monthly. SSI payments are made on the 1 day of the month. If the 1 falls on a federal holiday, benefits are paid on the Friday before the 1 day of the month. 

On the other hand, SSA pays Social Security benefits on the month following the month when the benefits are due. Monthly payments are made on the 3 of the month, and on the second, third, and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

Disability standard

The SSA’s standard for disability is the same for both SSI and Social Security benefits for individuals who are 18 or older. However, both programs have different definitions for “disability” for children below 18.

Applying for regular Social Security vs. SSI

If you are eligible to receive SSI based on age or disability, you may also qualify to receive Social Security benefits. Therefore, when you apply for SSI benefits, you will be automatically applying for Social Security benefits. For example, if you apply for SSI based on your disability, you may also be eligible for Social Security Disability insurance.

You can apply for either or both benefits through your My Social Security account, by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213, sending your filed application to the Social Security address, or visiting the local Social Security office.