I know this is true in any profession or business — those who do the work every day are continually surprised by clients or customers who have a lack of understanding of the most basic aspects of the terminology. I’m certainly guilty of that myself.
Still, it can be a bit frustrating when talking with potential clients, or even other attorneys, when they ask questions using terms that are incorrect and can lead to incorrect answers. A perfect example is SSI, or Supplemental Security Income. The difference, and importance, of this term was perfectly described by columnist Tom Margenau in a recent article. Here are excerpts:
Before I get to today’s question, I must clarify some points about the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program.
Every single day, I get emails from people who confuse SSI with the Social Security program. SSI has absolutely nothing to do with Social Security, other than the fact that it happens to be managed by the Social Security Administration.
Everyone knows what Social Security is. You work, you pay Social Security taxes, and someday you retire and collect Social Security benefits. Or someday you become disabled (before age 66) and become entitled to Social Security disability benefits. Or someday you die and your widow, or widower, or minor children start getting Social Security survivor’s benefits.
All of those benefits: retirement, disability, and survivors, are part of Social Security. Not one of those programs has anything to do with Supplemental Security Income.
SSI is a federal welfare program that pays a modest monthly benefit to very poor people who are either over age 65 or who are under 65 but disabled. You do not qualify for monthly SSI payments by working and paying taxes. You qualify simply by being a very poor U.S. citizen.
So please don’t send me emails telling me you are getting SSI when you are actually getting Social Security disability benefits. And please don’t go to the Social Security office and tell them you want to apply for SSI, when you actually want to file for Social Security retirement or disability benefits. And that is not simply a matter of semantics. I have given more than a few wrong answers to people because they incorrectly told me they were getting SSI. And I have heard from readers who intended to file for Social Security benefits, but instead told the Social Security office that they wanted to apply for SSI payments, and they ended up answering lots of welfare-oriented questions about their income and assets before someone realized the wrong application form was being used. So please remember that Social Security and SSI are completely different programs.