Social Security Benefits Fact Sheet

The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. While these two programs are different in many ways, both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either program.

The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

Disability under Social Security is based on your inability to work. We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if you cannot do work that you did before and we decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Your disability must also last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers' compensation, insurance, savings and investments.

Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured," meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

To qualify for benefits, you must first have worked in jobs covered by Social Security. Then you must have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability. In general, we pay monthly cash benefits to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability.

Benefits usually continue until you are able to work again on a regular basis. There are also a number of special rules, called "work incentives," that provide continued benefits and health care coverage to help you make the transition back to work.

If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

Supplemental Security Income pays benefits based on financial need. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes):

  • It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and
  • It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. If you are ready to apply now, you can do so by:

  • Completing your application online.
  • Calling the toll-free telephone number 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call us at TTY 1-800-325-0778.
  • Calling or visiting your local Social Security office.

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