What is Social Security Disability?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that provides benefits to disabled people and qualifying family members. You must meet certain work requirements to qualify for SSDI. In other words, you must have paid into the system by paying social security taxes on your income.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a similar program that provides benefits to disabled or elderly people with limited or no income. Social Security does not fund it, so there are no work or tax requirements. It is administered jointly by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and state governments.
Which Disabilities Does Social Security Disability Cover?
The purpose of SSDI is to provide workers with monthly benefits if disabilities prevent them from earning an income. To qualify, you must have a severe disability. The SSA defines a qualifying disability with three factors:
- The disability prevents you from doing the work you did previously.
- As determined by the SSA, you cannot do alternative work because of your condition or disability.
- The disability is expected to prevent you from working for at least one year or to be terminal, leading to your death.
The SSA has a complete list of conditions that qualify as disabilities potentially severe enough to meet the qualifications. There is a list for adults and one for children. Some examples of conditions on the lists are:
- Spine disorders
- Cystic fibrosis
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- Chronic heart failure
- Parkinson’s disease
- Vision or hearing loss
- Bipolar disorder
The list includes many more conditions, both physical and mental. These are only the conditions that could be severe and prevent work. Not all instances of these conditions qualify because they are not severe. However, a mild condition may become severe, qualifying you for benefits.
What Are the Other Qualifications for SSDI?
To receive SSDI benefits, you must meet the qualifications for having a disability. You must also meet the work requirements. Beneficiaries must have a certain number of work credits representing how much they paid into the Social Security system while working.
The number of credits you must have to qualify for benefits varies. It depends on your age and when you became disabled. You also must have worked at least some of the time each year, for at least five of the last ten years before applying for benefits.
What Are the Qualifications for SSI?
There are no work or tax requirements to qualify for SSI benefits. This is a social safety net solely based on need. To qualify, you must be 65 or older, blind, or disabled. You must also show that you have limited income and resources. Some disabled children also qualify. The benefit is a set monthly payment.
What Are Social Security Disability Benefits?
SSDI benefits are cash benefits designed to replace income. The amount depends on your past earnings and how much you paid in taxes to the Social Security system. Benefits are generally modest. According to the SSA, the average monthly benefit in 2019 was just $1,234. This amounts to $12,140 per year. Benefits adjust each year to match cost-of-living changes.
Can I Work While Receiving SSDI Benefits?
Many people on benefits want to return to work but fear their benefits will be cut off if they attempt to get a job or try to return to work after recovering from a condition. The SSA allows recipients to work through a few programs:
- Ticket to Work. This program will help you find work and offers incentives. It allows you to keep some benefits and even cash payments, depending on the situation.
- Trial Work Period. There is also a grace period of nine months over a 60-month period, called the Trial Work Period. This allows you to experiment with returning to work without the risk of losing benefits. You can earn as much as possible during the trial period. When you have reached nine months, not necessarily consecutive, earning $910 or more, your benefits end.
- Trial Work Period Extension. There is an option for an extension if you earn less than the SSA’s threshold income, known as the substantial gainful activity. The amount is $2,110 for blind workers and $1,260 for non-blind individuals. This extension period lasts for 36 months. If you go over the threshold in any month, you lose all benefits for that month.
How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability?
You can apply for SSDI benefits by going to a Social Security office to file in person, by filling out forms online, or by calling the toll-free number for applying. You will need to provide information about your disability and will be asked to authorize the SSA to access your medical records.
Apply as soon as you become disabled, as benefits do not begin for six months. The process can be confusing, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Consider working with a social security disability lawyer to give you a better chance of a fast application process with a successful outcome.
What if My Claim for Benefits is Denied?
It is essential to hire a lawyer if the SSA denies your application. You may appeal the decision, and while this does not require a lawyer, it’s a good idea. You must appeal within 60 days of a denial. The SSA will go through four steps:
- Reconsideration of your application
- An administrative law judge hearing
- Review by the SSA’s Appeals Council
- A lawsuit in federal court
If you think you may qualify for social security disability, or if you have applied and been denied, talk to a lawyer about your options. The system can be very confusing, but lawyers who specialize in social security understand all the rules and can help you navigate it to get benefits.