Social Security Disability Benefits

Disability benefits are paid under two separate nationwide programs. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an insurance program that pays benefits to aged, blind, or disabled workers who have contributed to the Social Security program through payroll taxes and acquired the necessary number of work “credits.” Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program that also provides benefits. To be eligible for SSI, income and resources must also fall below a set amount.

Who is Eligible

  • SSDI: To qualify, an individual must earn Social Security credits by working a job and paying enough Social Security taxes to be insured for disability, and satisfy the adult definition of disability.  In addition, children who are at least age 18 may qualify for disability on their parent's Social Security earnings record if that adult child can show disability that was present prior to attaining age 22. 
  • SSI: To qualify, an individual must either be a U.S. citizen or meet certain criteria if not a citizen, have income and resources below set levels, and have a disability.  Unlike SSDI, children under the age of 18 can qualify for SSI if they meet a separate childhood definition of disability.  

Why Apply

Provides qualified persons with cash benefits.

To Apply For

If the initial application is denied, the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children may be able to assist with an appeal.

You will need: 

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your birth or baptismal certificate
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, and dates of your visits
  • Names and dosage of all the medicine you take
  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers that you already have in your possession
  • Laboratory and test results
  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did
  • A copy of your most recent W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement) or, if you are self-employed, your federal tax return for the past year

Read More

Definition of Disability for Adults: To be considered disabled for Social Security benefit purposes, an individual must demonstrate the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

The disability must impact the ability to do substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity is defined as any activity generating countable income over $1040 non-blind/$1740 blind in 2013. If countable income is above this amount, or if an individual does not have any medically determinable physical or mental impairment, he or she will be denied initial eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Once it has been established that a medically determinable physical or mental impairment exists and the work activity is not substantial, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks to see if those impairments meet or equal one of its designated listings.

If the impairments meet or equal the listing, benefits are awarded. If they do not, SSA then analyzes the individual’s ability to do prior work or any work in the national economy. This analysis also takes into account the individual’s age, education, and work history. Benefits are awarded only if SSA determines through this analysis that there is no job in the national economy that the individual can do.

Social Security Insured Status: To qualify for Social Security Disability insurance payments, an individual must have insured status. Insured status is acquired by earning enough credits within a specified period of time, which varies based on age.

Relationship to SSI: SSDI and SSI use the same definition of disability. However, most individuals who receive SSDI do not receive SSI because their SSDI check makes them income-ineligible for any SSI. However, if an individual’s SSDI check is small, he or she may be eligible for a small SSI check.

Visit www.ssa.gov for more information about SSDI and other social insurance programs.

Survivor and Dependent Benefits

When a worker who pays into Social Security retires, becomes disabled, or dies, certain family members are entitled to draw payments from Social Security to replace the lost wages of the worker.

When a worker retires or becomes disabled, the following may be eligible for a dependent cash benefit:

  • Spouses or former spouses who reach retirement age
  • Any minor child
  • Spouses raising minor child
  • Adult children with disabilities that occurred before the age of 22

When a worker dies, the following may be eligible for a survivor cash benefit:

  • Spouses or former spouses at age 60
  • Disabled spouses or former spouses at age 50
  • Dependent parents
  • Any minor child
  • Spouses raising minor child
  • Adult children with disabilities that occurred before the age of 22

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available to children with disabilities from low-income and low-asset households. In order to be found eligible for children’s SSI benefits, the child must be under 18, meet the children’s definition of disability, and meet the countable income and asset limits (which include the income and assets of parents or step-parents living in the home).

Childhood Definition of Disability: The childhood definition of disability is different than the one used for adults. First, the child cannot have countable earnings above the Substantial Gainful Activity amount. Second, the child must have a physical or mental condition or combination of conditions that results in “marked and severe functional limitations” and the condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months or to result in death. This is assessed by looking at functioning without special education, extra help, or a special environment.

Age 18 Redeterminations: Once a child turns 18, SSA must review the child’s disability to determine if he or she meets the adult standard. This is usually done within 12 months of the 18th birthday. If the child is found NOT disabled by the adult standard, two more checks will be issued after that determination and then benefits will stop. These redeterminations may be appealed just like any other disability determination. Individuals can request benefits pending a decision on the appeal of the initial (first) decision if they request this within 10 days. Otherwise, the regular 60-day appeal timeline applies. These benefits pending appeal will be considered an overpayment by the Social Security Administration if the individual is ultimately determined ineligible for adult benefits. But, if the request was made in good faith, the individual may argue that SSA should waive the overpayment.

The Benefit: The standard federal benefit rate for 2013 is $710.

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance: The application process consists of an initial application that may be made in person, online at www.socialsecurity.gov, or by phone at (800) 772-1213. If the initial application is denied, there are several levels of appeal. The Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children may be able to assist with this process.

Supplemental Security Income for Adults

Supplemental Security Income is a cash benefit program available to any individual who:

  • Is 65 or older, or
  • Has physical or medical conditions severe enough that he or she meets the Social Security definition of disability; and
  • Has low or no countable income and countable resources under $2000 for an individual and $3000 for a couple; and
  • Meets other non-financial eligibility criteria.

Social Security’s Definition of Disability: To be considered disabled for Social Security benefit purposes, an individual must demonstrate the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

The key here is not simply that the person has a disability, but that disability must also impact the ability to do substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity is defined as any activity generating countable income over $1040 non-blind/$1740 blind in 2013. If countable income is above this amount or an individual does not have any medically determinable physical or mental impairment, he or she will be denied initial eligibility for SSI.

Once it has been established that a medically determinable physical or mental impairment exists and the work activity is not substantial, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks to see if those impairments meet or equal one of its designated listings.

If the impairments meet or equal the listing, benefits are awarded. If they do not, SSA then analyzes the individual’s ability to do prior work or any work in the national economy. This analysis also takes into account the individual’s age, education, and work history. Benefits are awarded only if SSA determines through this analysis that there is no job in the national economy that the individual can do.

Income and Asset Eligibility: SSI is an income maintenance program for individuals who are very poor. There is no work history required. In general, SSI is a payer of last resort. If an individual has countable income or assets from any other source, these resources will reduce an SSI check or cause ineligibility. Some income and assets are not counted. For example, the home in which a person resides and one car are both excluded.

The Benefit: The standard federal benefit rate for 2013 is $710. The standard federal benefit rate for a couple is $1066. It is possible for somebody who receives Social Security Disability or Retirement Insurance payments to receive a reduced SSI check if their Insurance payments are small.

Links to Important Resources

Social Security Administration


Topics: Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income
Tags: SSI, SSDI, Disability
Last updated August 15, 2017

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