Completing the Picture: Key Features of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program. SSDI Improves the Economic Well-Being of Those Who Receive It, but Many Still Live in Poverty


SSDI Improves the Economic Well-Being of Those Who Receive It, but Many Still Live in Poverty

For people with disabilities who cannot work, have little earnings, and no other significant source of income, SSDI benefits provide critical cash assistance. But despite this assistance, people who rely solely on SSDI or on concurrent SSI and SSDI benefits for their income are very likely to live in poverty. Among those receiving SSDI benefits only, 27 percent lived in poverty in 2010 (Wright et al. 2012). For concurrent beneficiaries, total income benefits are no more than $730 per month (the maximum SSI amount plus a $20 income disregard applied to the SSDI benefit) in 2013--just 75 percent of the federal poverty guideline for a single adult. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia provided small supplements to these payments in January 2011,9 but nevertheless, about 72 percent of SSI recipients (including those with SSDI benefits) lived in poverty in 2010.

The value of SSA disability benefits does not end with income support. In particular, health benefits are often especially important for this population. Most SSDI beneficiaries become eligible for Medicare 24 months after their SSDI benefits start. Almost all concurrent beneficiaries as well as a few SSDI-only beneficiaries qualify for state Medicaid benefits, although the eligibility rules vary by state. For many, Medicaid pays for long-term care services such as personal assistance and nursing home care--services not covered by Medicare or private insurance. But despite these in-kind benefits, people with disabilities who live in poverty are much more likely to experience material hardship, such as going hungry, than those with comparable incomes who do not have disabilities (She & Livermore 2007).

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