Disability: The Other Social Security Benefit

When you hear people talking about "Social Security," you most likely think of the retirement benefits that are paid to former workers who are in their sixties. However, 36 percent of Americans who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) are not retired workers.

Disability benefits

The most common non-retirement benefits administered by the SSA are disability benefits. This type of benefit provides financial assistance to people who are unable to work because of a medical condition. There are two types of disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Old-Age, Survivors Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI is an income supplement that pays cash to assist adults and children in obtaining the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have limited income and resources and be age 65 or older, blind or disabled. In order for an adult or child to be considered disabled, he or she must have a physical or mental impairment which:

  • Prevents the applicant from engaging in any substantial gainful work; and
  • Can be expected to result in death; or
  • Has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months

SSI payments are paid every month and are subject to a maximum federal benefit rate, which is currently $698 for an individual and $1,048 for a couple. Each State may supplement the maximum SSI rate.

The SSDI program pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a mental or physical condition. However, unlike SSI benefits, the amount of benefits paid under SSDI is based on the applicant's earnings history and has a much higher maximum than SSI.

To qualify for SSDI benefits, the applicant must pass a "recent work" test and "duration of work" test. In essence, the applicant must have worked for a certain period before the disability and must have worked a minimum number of years during his or her adult life. In addition, the applicant must undergo a rigorous process to determine if he or she is disabled under the SSA's rigid standards.

In addition to the applicant, SSDI benefits are available to other members of the family including:

  • Spouses who are 62 years or older, disabled, or caring for a child who is younger than 16. Spouses and ex-spouses may also be entitle to survivor's benefits.
  • Disabled children (including adopted children)

Consult an attorney

It is helpful to check with a professional as to whether you qualify for Social Security disability benefits and to learn what information you will need to prove your disability claim. The application and appeals processes are very complex and involve a tremendous amount of effort and paperwork. An experienced attorney who deals with the Social Security Administration on a daily basis can review your personal situation and work with you every step of the way to establish your disability and help you obtain the maximum amount of benefits that you and your family are entitled to.