What Does SSA Stand For? (And Why it’s Important)
When you’re exploring disability, retirement, or survivors’ benefits, it won’t be long before you come across the acronym SSA. Knowing what the SSA is and how to interact with it is essential if you’re planning to take advantage of public benefits.
What Is the SSA?
SSA stands for the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration is an agency of the federal government that issues Social Security numbers and administers a number of public benefits programs.
Following the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to create federal social insurance programs for retired workers, the unemployed, and individuals who were unable to work due to a disability. In 1935, The Social Security Act was passed which established the SSA.
Today, the SSA administers the following programs:
- Social Security retirement benefits
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans’ benefits
Who Qualifies for Social Security benefits?
Depending on the program, Social Security can benefit older adults, those with limited income and resources, people living with disabilities, or their family members. Beneficiaries receive monthly payments that the SSA distributes electronically.
Here’s an overview of a few of these programs and how you might qualify:
Social Security retirement
When you retire or reduce your hours as you approach the SSA’s “full” retirement age, Social Security retirement benefits could provide you with a monthly payment that replaces or supplements your income. If you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes, you may qualify for these benefits.
Your employers likely include these taxes as part of your paycheck, entitling you to Social Security benefits in the future. Or, you might have handled these taxes yourself if you were self-employed.
In 2023, the average Social Security retirement payment for retired workers is $1,830 per month.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
In the event that you become disabled and can no longer work, you could receive SSDI. To obtain coverage, you must have worked long enough to have made sufficient contributions to Social Security. Adults living with disabilities whose parents paid into Social Security during their working years may also be eligible.
SSDI applicants must also meet the SSA’s strict definition of disability. According to the SSA, disability is defined as “the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment.” In other words, your condition must render you unable to work.
In 2023, the average SSI payment is $1,483 per month. Note that the SSA relies on a formula, based in part on your lifetime earnings, to calculate your monthly SSDI benefit.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI benefits older adults with limited means as well as people with disabilities. SSI differs from SSDI in that, to qualify, you must have limited income and assets (generally less than $2,000). Note that individuals living with disabilities (and/or their family) can establish a Special Needs Trust to help them remain eligible for public benefits while still maintaining assets or earning income.
Unlike with SSDI benefits, there is no requirement that you must have worked and paid into Social Security. A person living with a disability who has never worked could qualify for SSI. Older adults with low incomes and few resources can also receive SSI, even if they do not have a disability, but they must be 65 or older.
In most states, you also receive public health insurance, called Medicaid, when you receive SSI benefits.
The average SSI monthly payout in 2023 is $914 for an individual.
Medicare is a public health insurance program for older adults. While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) primarily administers Medicare, the SSA also plays a role by handling Medicare enrollment.
- If you already get Social Security benefits, the SSA sends you a Medicare enrollment package before you turn 65. When you turn 65, the SSA will automatically enroll you in Medicare Part A hospital coverage and Medicare Part B medical insurance.
- If you have a qualifying disability, the agency will enroll you in Medicare even if you are younger than 65 after you have received SSDI payments for two years.
- The SSA deducts Medicare Part A and B premiums directly from Social Security benefits. (Few people have to pay a premium for Part A.)
- You can choose to enroll in Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs. This can also be deducted from your Social Security benefits, if you wish.
Social Security programs, including SSI, SSDI, and others, follow very complex rules. If you are not sure how to apply for one of these programs, want to determine whether you are eligible, or have other questions, we recommend consulting with an expert. Here’s a list of qualified special needs planners near you.
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