The term social security income is difficult to define because it might refer to several programs. In fact, social security income is often a miswording of supplemental security income (SSI), a special US government program aimed at helping those young or old who are generally legal blind or severely disabled in another way. This needs to be understood as wholly different than the program funded by payroll taxes called the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI), which draws on the money collected as social security taxes. SSI doesn’t operate in this manner.
There are some big real distinctions between the different types of social security income. SSI is available to anyone qualifying, not just workers. In fact, it may be collected by any eligible person of almost any age, given that the person or his/her caretakers meet certain income requirements. It’s quite possible for SSI checks to be made out to parents of a severely disabled infant, and if that infant can never develop the skills to work, he or she might receive payments throughout life. These are not huge and are barely enough to support living in shared quarters; they rise as any other income decreases and may discontinue if a person makes a high enough income.
In contrast, social security income that refers to OASDI usually goes only to people who have earned it, or to their survivors. As people work throughout their lives they create credits, which make them eligible to collect “retirement pay” or to collect some of this pay if they become permanently disabled sooner than age of retirement. Not only is this pay available to the worker, but also a spouse usually becomes eligible to collect part of it when she/he reaches retirement age. Should a person with children pass away before those kids are 18 and have already earned right to collect the OASDI form of social security income, the children may be eligible to collect survivor’s benefits.
The disability pay from OASDI and SSI can vary a little or a lot. First, most people who have never worked can’t get disability through OASDI, and they thus are not eligible to participate in programs like Medicare. However, sometimes a person getting disability payments through OASDI might be eligible for addition SSI, and if they cannot afford Medicare they may qualify for Medicaid. At present those receiving even one dollar of SSI automatically must receive Medicaid. They get this even if they are insured elsewhere, and no matter what age they are.
However OASDI social security income is often more attractive because payments tend to be a little larger. On the other hand, some individuals can qualify for both. Disability payment amount is often not based on present income, but instead is the amount that has been considered “earned” by salary throughout life. This is usually a larger amount than SSI payments, though not always.
In general, it could be said that social security income is any income that is derived from the government for retirement, disability or a few other reasons. Yet these programs have different means of funding and determining eligibility. They are clearly not the same, though they may share a common purpose.