Social Security Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers three programs:

  • SSA Retirement—this program is available to workers beginning at 62 years of age; full benefits will not begin until age 65.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Supplemental Security Income

Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are available to people who have paid into the program and are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. 

To qualify for disability benefits, you must have worked enough quarters of coverage to be considered “fully insured” by the SSA.  In addition, you must have had Social Security taxes taken out of your paychecks. 

There are two different earnings tests to meet the fully insured requirement:  the “recent work” test and the “duration of work” test.  Recent work is based on age at the time of becoming disabled; duration of work is based on the length of time employed.

To qualify, you must also be considered totally disabled under the SSA’s rule, which means you cannot perform substantial gainful activity based on age, education and prior work experience. 

The SSA uses a five-step process to determine whether a person is totally disabled:

  • Is the person working?  If a person is working and earnings average more than a certain amount each month, that person will not be considered disabled.
  • Is a person’s condition “severe”?  This means the medical condition significantly limits a person’s ability to do basic work activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, etc.
  • Is a person’s medical condition on the List of Impairments?  Some medical conditions are considered so severe that a person will automatically be considered totally disabled.
  • Can a person do the work he or she did previously?
  • Can a person do any other type of work?

Social Security Disability Appeals

If the SSA denies or “disapproves” your claim, you have a right to appeal the decision and to be represented by an attorney.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are, in effect, a federal welfare program for aged and disabled workers.  The benefits are paid to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources (the things a person owns).  They are also payable to people 65 years of age and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. SSI benefits are not paid for by Social Security taxes, they are paid for by U.S. Treasury general funds.


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