Difference Between Welfare & Supplemental Security Income

The welfare and Supplemental Security Income programs provide public aid to U.S. families in need. For families with low incomes struggling to find work and pay for essentials such as food and shelter, welfare or SSI benefits may help. Those who are eligible for one program may not be eligible for the other, with several factors distinguishing the two programs.


Individual states operate welfare programs, officially known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families at the federal level. The federal government awards block grants to states, which establish the guidelines for distributing money to eligible families. Since 1996, no federal entitlement to assistance has existed. Supplemental Security Income is a federal program that derives funding from general tax revenues. The Social Security Administration operates SSI, which is distinct from regular Social Security and Social Security Disability benefits.

Target Groups

As the name suggests, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families strives to provide assistance to families. States determine eligibility guidelines but in general must use federal grants, as well as their own funds, to help poor families with children. One of the primary goals of the program is to allow families to care for their own children while moving adults from welfare to work. Supplemental Security Income benefits are for elderly, blind or disabled people with minimal income. Based on the demographic, SSI benefits often go to individuals that live alone rather than to families.


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families eligibility guidelines vary by state. Income limits for TANF benefits depend in some way on the federal poverty level. In more than one-third of states, families are eligible only if they have a monthly income of less than 50 percent of federal poverty. In other states, families may qualify if their earnings exceed 100 percent of federal poverty. SSI recipients must meet income limits that, for individuals as of 2010, were $1,433 from earnings or $694 from unearned income such as public aid. Some states may raise those limits. Recipients also must meet stringent definitions for being elderly, blind or disabled.


Depending on the state, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits may include cash assistance amounts based on the family's income, as well as other services for recipients who find work. These other services may include child care assistance, educational activities and job training, and other forms of public aid such as Medicaid and food stamps. SSI monthly benefits do not go beyond a cash stipend. However, in most states, SSI recipients automatically are eligible for Medicaid. As of 2010, individuals could collect up to $674 a month in SSI benefits and couples could collect $1,011. Countable income would decrease those amounts.