Qualifying for Social Security and SSI Disability Benefits: Part I- The Basics

Qualifying for Social Security and SSI Disability Benefits: Part I- The Basics

What benefits are available for the disabled from Social Security?

There are two benefit programs, disability insurance (Title II) and SSI (Title XVI).  The first program is for persons with a sufficient earnings history as recorded by the Social Security Administration.  The second program, SSI, is a federal welfare program for those who have never worked or who have not worked long enough to qualify for disability insurance benefits.  For disability insurance benefits, widow(er)s and divorced spouses can sometimes qualify on the earnings record of the former spouse.  Benefits are also available for minor children of the insured.  Disabled children may qualify for SSI benefits if their parents’ income and resources meet the criteria.

What are the basic eligibility requirements for Social Security and SSI disability benefits?

To qualify for either of these disability benefit programs, a person must not only meet the disability definition, they must also qualify on a financial basis. To qualify for disability insurance benefits, a person must have worked and paid wage taxes long enough to be “insured” for receipt of these benefits. Generally that means a person must have worked and paid Social Security taxes five out of the last ten years before they became disabled.  SSI is a federal welfare program.  To financially qualify for these benefits a person must have both low income and low assets.  If the applicant is married, their spouse’s income and assets are included in the eligibility calculation and therefore may prevent SSI eligibility.

How does Social Security define disability?

In general, the definition created by Congress is one of the more difficult disability standards to meet.  First, this is a long term disability program. A person must establish that they have been disabled for at least twelve (12) continuous months or that their disability is expected to last at least that long or result in death. Second, they must show that the symptoms of their medical conditions prevent them from performing any of the jobs that they have performed in the last fifteen (15) years. Third, depending upon a person’s age, education and past work experience, they must also show an inability to perform any easier types of jobs.  In other words, if a person used to do factory work and can no longer perform that job because of the standing, lifting and carrying required, they could still be found ineligible for benefits if they retained the ability to perform a sedentary job in an office setting such as a receptionist or telephone operator.  This definition changes and becomes easier, however, after a person reaches age 50.

When should someone apply for these benefits?

We recommend that a person apply for these benefits as soon as they feel that they can demonstrate an inability to work for at least twelve (12) consecutive months.  Normally you must have stopped working before you apply.  However, if your earnings are low enough, you may still be able to apply while you continue to work part time.

How do I file an application for Social Security or SSI disability benefits?

Applications for these benefits can be made in one of two (2) ways: 1) by calling Social Security’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (answered from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.); or 2) via Social Security’s Internet site, www.ssa.gov.  The application is not complete until you have signed it and submitted it to Social Security.

If you or someone you know has any questions about disability benefits, call the Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek for a free consultation at Jenkintown 215-385-5353 or Philadelphia 215-323-5320 or email us at:  [email protected]  The Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek maintains offices in center city Philadelphia, PA and Jenkintown, PA.  The Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek focuses its law practice exclusively on Social Security and SSI disability matters.