Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Benefit Programs: Introduction to SDI, SSI, and SSDI

  1. What is SDI?

    SDI stands for “State Disability Insurance.”  SDI is a cash benefit that provides partial income replacement for up to twelve months when you become unable to do your usual work due to a mental or physical condition.  SDI is a California program.  It is administered by the EDD (“Employment Development Department”).  See our fact sheet entitled “State Disability Insurance: Your Legal Rights” for more information.

  2. What is “short-term disability”?

    Short-term disability refers to an insurance plan or benefits program that provides income replacement for a finite period of time (usually between six months and one year) when a person becomes disabled from working due to a health condition.  SDI is a type of short-term disability.  Your employer may provide employees with short-term disability insurance to supplement the benefits provided by SDI.  Under a typical short-term disability plan, a claimant must show that they are unable to perform their regular job or a similar job.

  3. What is SSI?

    SSI is short for “Supplementary Security Income.”  SSI is a federal (U.S.) program.  It is administered by an agency called the Social Security Administration (SSA).  SSI is a cash benefit for low-income adults who are unable to do the work they did previously (if any) or any other job due to a disability that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year.

    SSI is also available to some children with disabilities (depending on parental income) and to people over 65 who are low-income, even if they do not have a disability.

    In 2013, the maximum SSI benefit that a non-blind, single person in California can receive is $866; the maximum benefit for a blind individual is $921.

  4. What is SSDI?

    SSDI stands for “Social Security Disability Insurance,” and is another federal program administered by the SSA.  SSDI is a cash benefit for adults who are unable to do their previous work or any other job due to a disability that has lasted or will last at least one year, and who have earned a certain amount of money within the ten years before becoming disabled from working.  (Some additional adults disabled before age 22 are eligible for SSDI based on their parent’s Social Security earnings record.)  Unlike SSI, you are not required to be low-income to receive SSDI benefits.

    The amount of cash benefit under SSDI varies, depending on how much money you earned when you were working.  In general, SSDI benefit amounts are higher than SSI amounts.  If your SSDI benefit amount is low, you may also qualify for SSI and receive benefits from both programs.

  5. What is “long-term disability”?

    Long-term disability or LTD refers to an insurance plan that provides partial income replacement for an extended period of time when a person becomes disabled from working due to a health condition.  Your employer may provide employees with long-term disability coverage.  A typical LTD plan pays benefits after SDI or other short-term disability benefits are exhausted.  Usually, a claimant seeking LTD benefits must show that they are unable to do their own job and other jobs.

    Many LTD plans require that you also apply for SSDI.  You will still receive the same payment amount (the difference is that the money will come from both your LTD plan and your SSDI, rather than coming only from the LTD plan).

  6. Where do I start?

    If you have a recent work history (if you have worked within the past 18 months) and you have stopped working or looking for work due to a physical or mental impairment, then you should contact EDD about SDI.  See our fact sheet entitled “State Disability Insurance: Your Legal Rights” for more eligibility information about SDI, and call us if you have questions.

    You should also contact your current or most recent employer to find out if you are covered by any short-term or long-term disability insurance plan.  These benefit plans may have strict deadlines.  If you need additional legal aid to help you apply for short-term or long-term disability benefits, or to appeal a denial of an application for benefits, contact your local bar association and ask for a referral.  If your benefit plan is offered by a private employer, you may need an attorney who specializes in a law called ERISA.

    If you are disabled from working most or all jobs for which you have the minimum education or training, you may want to apply for federal disability benefits with the SSA.  If you have a work history, you can apply for SSDI.  If you are low-income, you can apply for SSI.  If you apply for SSDI but are found not eligible, the SSA will automatically consider you for SSI.

    More information about applying for Social Security disability benefits can be found at www.ssa.gov/disability.  If you need help applying for benefits or appealing a denial of your application, call your local legal aid office, or call us for a referral.

    More questions?  See our other fact sheets for additional information, or call us for help.

For further information about your employment rights, contact the Workers’ Rights Clinic.

Disclaimer

This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.