Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are similar in some ways but differ in others. They are similar in that both benefits for people whose ability to work is affected by disabling conditions or blindness.
The two programs differ, however, in that SSDI is based on contributions made to the Social Security system through paid work. SSI, by contrast, does not have to involve paid work.
But this does not necessarily mean that if you receive SSI, you're not also working. Indeed, there is a special rule designed to help blind people who work and receive SSI based on the condition of blindness.
When determining the person's SSI benefit, the rule enables a blind person to exclude from personal income expenses that make it possible for the person to work. The expenses do not have to relate to the person's blindness.
On its website, the Social Security Administration gives an example. In the example, a blind employee earns just over $800 a month, but has at least $350 of expenses. The expenses include $250 per month withheld by the employer for state and federal income taxes and Social Security (FICA) taxes. The employee also has the expense of $100 per month for transportation to work and back.
In this example, the $350 in expenses would be excluded in calculating the blind person's income for purposes of determining the amount of his or her SSI benefit.
Of course, it's important to keep in mind that the Social Security Administration has a formal definition of a condition it calls "statutory blindness." This can mean one of two things.
It could involve "central visual acuity" of 20/200 or worse in the better eye, even with the use of a corrective lens. Or it could mean a visual field limitation in the better eye so severe that the visual field, at its widest diameter, extends to an angle no greater than 20 degrees.
If a visual impairment does not meet either of these two criteria, it may still be possible to show eligibility for SSI based on disability.
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on Supplemental Security Income.