If you’re unable to work due to a medical impairment, you may qualify for monthly Social Security Disability benefits. However, filing for these benefits can be difficult. You must complete and submit complicated paperwork and medical records to prove that your condition meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. Depending on the program you’re applying for, you may also have to prove that you meet other eligibility criteria, such as having few assets and a very low income.
At Bross & Frankel, P.A., we understand that the process of filing for disability benefits can be challenging when you’re already living with a disabling impairment. Whether you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, we want to help you. On this page, we explain SSD requirements so you can have a better idea of what to expect.
How the SSA Determines Disability
This is another question we often get: do you qualify for disability? Let’s take a look at SSDI first.
Unlike private or employer-sponsored benefits plans, Social Security only pays benefits if you are completely disabled. Those with a short-term or partial disability will not qualify. You will be considered disabled under established SSD requirements if:
- You can’t work or do any substantial gainful activity because of your impairment.
- Your condition prevents you from doing your previous work or transitioning to other employment.
- The condition is expected to last at least one year or cause death.
To determine if you are eligible for disability benefits, the SSA uses a multi-step process involving five questions. The five questions are as follows:
- Are you currently employed? If you are working, the SSA will look at your earnings to see if you are participating in substantial gainful activity. In 2022, if you earn more than $1,350 ($2,260 if you are blind) a month, you generally cannot qualify as disabled.
- How severe is your condition? The condition must limit your ability to perform basic work-related activities for at least 12 months.
- Does your condition appear in the Blue Book? The Blue Book is the SSA’s manual for disabling impairments. If your condition isn’t on the list, Disability Determination Services (DDS) will have to confirm whether it is as severe as a listed condition. If it is, you will likely be found disabled.
- Can you do the work you used to do? In this step, the SSA determines whether your medical impairment prevents you from doing work you’ve done in the past. If it does, the SSA representative handling your case will proceed to the final question.
- Can you do any other type of job? The Social Security Administration will take into account your age, medical condition, education, work experience, and any transferable skills that you may have. You won’t be eligible for disability benefits if you can do other work.
What is the Difference Between Social Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD)?
As SSD lawyers, we get a lot of questions regarding SSI vs SSDI differences.
The primary difference between SSI and SSDI is that SSI is generally based on age and disability, while SSDI is aimed at former workers with a long-term disability. Both programs are designed to provide disabled claimants with the income they need to survive. Although both programs provide assistance, they do so in different ways, which we’ll go into below.
What Are the Requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits?
The Social Security Disability Insurance program provides assistance to people who are unable to work or support themselves due to a disability. This benefit program is aimed at those who have worked for a sufficient amount of time and paid enough Social Security taxes to be eligible. To qualify, you must meet the following SSD requirements:
- Have a medical condition that meets the Social Security Administration (SSA) definition of disability. This condition must be expected to last at least one year or end in death.
- Have worked long to amass enough ‘work credits.’
How Many Work Credits Do You Need?
You earn Social Security work credits based on your total work-related income. Each year, you can earn up to four credits, and the amount needed for a work credit varies and is subject to change. As an example, in 2022 you can earn one credit for every $1,510 you earn in income. After earning $6,040, you have earned four credits.
The number of work credits you need will depend on how old you are when your disability begins. In general, you need 40 credits of which 20 must have been earned in the last 10 years. Younger workers, however, may need fewer credits to qualify.
Disability Criteria for Those Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision
Social Security considers you legally blind if you cannot correct your vision to better than 20/200 in your better eye. If your visual field is 20 degrees or less, even with a corrective lens, you will be considered legally blind.
You may still qualify for disability benefits even if you do not meet the legal definition of blindness. This may happen if your vision problems, either alone or combined with other health issues, prevent you from maintaining gainful employment.
Blind applicants are treated differently from others in one key respect: income threshold. A blind person’s earnings limit is typically higher than the earnings limit for a non-blind person with disabilities. The limit on monthly earnings is $2,260 in 2022.
SSDI Benefits for Family Members with Disabilities
Following the death of a worker, benefits may be paid to a disabled widow, widower, or divorced spouse if the following conditions are met:
- They are between the ages of 50 and 60.
- They have a medical condition that meets the SSA definition of disability.
- That condition started before or within seven years of their working spouse’s or ex-spouse’s death.
A disabled widow or widower caring for a worker’s child(ren) is eligible for benefits even if she or he receives Social Security benefits. They continue to be eligible if their disability occurs before the end of those payments or within seven years after they end.
If a child under 18 has a disability, the SSA won’t consider that impairment when determining if they qualify for benefits. However, once they reach 18, a disability diagnosis can allow them to keep receiving benefits on their parent’s record, provided their earnings don’t exceed the SSDI threshold.
What Are the Requirements for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits?
Supplemental Security Income is a needs-based program that helps disabled individuals with low incomes and limited resources. It is generally aimed at those who are disabled and:
- Have never worked or;
- Have not worked long enough to qualify for SSD benefits or;
- Have not worked in a long time
Each year, the Social Security Administration sets a limit to determine who qualifies as low-income. In 2022, you must have less than $861 in unearned income such as Social Security benefits, pensions, and cash from friends and family. For a couple, the limit is $1,281. If you manage to work despite your disability, you can receive payments until you exceed the SSI income limits.
To qualify for SSI benefits, you must also meet strict resource limits. In 2022, you can’t own assets worth more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple. Resources counted by the SSA include:
- Checking and savings accounts;
- Property (other than your primary residence);
- Multiple vehicles;
- Valuable collections; and
- Life insurance policies that have a cash surrender value.
Unlike SSDI, there are no dependent benefits paid to the children of an SSI recipient. A blind or disabled child who is unmarried and under 18 (22 if they are still a student) can apply for and receive benefits on their own, however. Once they turn 18, the SSA will evaluate their impairment based on the adult definition of disability.
What If Your Application for Disability Benefits is Denied?
When you receive a denial letter from the SSA, it can be discouraging but it’s not uncommon. Initial disability applications are approved in less than 40% of cases, and there are multiple levels of appeal.
Within 60 days of the date of the denial letter, you can file a request for reconsideration; at this point, a different examiner will review your claim and determine whether disability benefits are appropriate. In the event that their decision is not favorable, you have the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ denies your claim, you can ask the SSA Appeals Council to review it or file a lawsuit in federal court if the Council declines to get involved.
Appeals can be complicated and time-consuming, so it’s best to hire an attorney who has experience handling SSA benefits claims. In addition to confirming your eligibility, they can submit your claim for you and represent you during the appeal process. When you hire an SSD attorney to handle your disability claim, your chances of being approved for benefits increase significantly.
Questions About SSD Requirements? Get a Free Consultation With a Disability Lawyer.
The Social Security Disability lawyers at Bross & Frankel, PA., have years of experience helping people like yourself file their application or launch a strong appeal. If you need help securing the disability benefits you need to take care of yourself and your family, we’re here to listen and take action. We support clients in Southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware for years and will fight for the outcome you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call 856-210-3345 or contact us online.