The Social Security Administration (SSA) decides who is eligible for disability payments under rules established in the Social Security Act by the US Congress. This blog will cover two main programs that administer disability payments: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). When you apply for Disability the SSA makes a determination as to whether you are eligible for either program and, in many cases, both programs.
SSDI provides payments to workers who have made contributions to the Social Security trust fund through Social Security tax on their earnings. You must have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify. The law requires you to earn a certain number or work credits in a specific time being you are eligible for benefits. You can earn up to 4 credits in a year and the amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise. In 2019, you must earn $1,360 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $5,440 to get the maximum four credits for the year.
The number of work credits needed for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Most people need at least 20 credits earned over ten years, ending with the year they become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. Essentially you count backwards from the year you alleged you became disabled in order to see if you’re eligible. Credits earned from many years in the past ultimately expire which can lead to situations where people who haven’t worked for many years before becoming disabled are not eligible. The date in which you lose your eligibility is called the date last insured or DLI. You can find out how many credits you have by contacting your local SSA office or searching on its website.
The SSI program provides payments to an adult or child who is disabled and has limited income and resources. If your income and resources are too high, then you will not be eligible for SSI benefits no matter how Disabled you might be. To qualify for SSI, your monthly income cannot exceed something called the federal benefit rate (FBR). The FBR for a married couple is approximately 33% more than for an individual. The FBR is set my law and increases annually as dictated by cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). In general, in 2019, the eligibility limit is $771 per month for an individual and $1,157 per month for a couple. The SSA does not count the following income and benefits when calculating your income level: $20 per month of most income; $65 per month of wages and one-half of wages over $65; food stamps; and some types of home energy/housing assistance.
In addition to income limits, your resources must also not exceed certain limits. A resource is cash or another asset that can be converted to cash and used for support. The resource limits are set by law and are $2000/single person and $3000/married couple. The SSA will exclude certain resources with some of the more common exclusions being homes, wedding rings, necessary health aids like a motorized scooter, one automobile, various types of schooling assistance, life insurance up to $1500, and burial plots up to $1500.
This is a general guide as to whether you qualify for Social Security Disability under the 2 main programs. There are other lesser known programs as well as other circumstances in which you may be eligible. You can contact an attorney for more specific guidance or the SSA directly.
Matthew C. Garner