SSDI Social Security Disability (SSDI) Answers to Frequent Questions

  1. This article answers the most frequent questions about the Social Security SSDI and SSI benefits programs. The Social Security Benefits Applications & Appeals FAQ covers specifically the application and appeals process for SSDI and SSI.

    What is the SSA and what does it do?

    Social Security insurance programs are administrated by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) , an independent federal agency. Social Security benefits cover disability, retirement and survivors' benefits. People who work in the United States and their employers contribute to this insurance program via Social Security taxes paid on wages. The applications and appeals processes are both handled by the SSA.

    SSDI and SSI – what’s the difference?

    SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is funded by the Social Security taxes paid by workers, their employers and self employed people. Your work history is used to determine whether you qualify for SSDI benefits and your average earnings are used to determine the amount of benefits you will receive.

    SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues - not Social Security taxes. SSDI is usually paid to people have a disability and don’t have much money, usually having low or no income and limited property ownership.

    Can you receive SSDI payments if you’re disabled but have money in your bank account?

    Yes you can.

    Can I earn money working while receiving SSDI payments?

    According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), having a “substantial gainful employment” means earning a minimum of $720 in a month. If you earn less, it is considered a “nominal” benefit. But if you continue to have a substantial gainful employment, you will lose your SSDI eligibility and SSDI payments.

    Are children eligible for Social Security disability benefits?

    If a child is disabled they are entitled to receive either SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income). Children fall under a different set of criteria. With regard to SSDI, the income of the child’s parents will be used to determine an amount. If the parents have no earning record, SSI will be paid. In some instances a combination of both payments will be paid up to the maximum SSI amount.

    Can my SSDI payments be taken for child support?

    Yes. However, if you dependent children, the children may qualify for child benefits based upon your SSDI benefit. When you applied for SSDI payments, you should have also provided the names, ages, address and social security numbers of your children. While the records can be modified to add the information pertaining to your children, it will probably delay the benefits from being paid to them.

    If I am being paid worker’s compensation, can I also receive SSDI?

    Yes you can but your payments may be reduced.

    What is the definition for the term “offset”?

    In general, your SSDI payments are not affected by other disability payments unless they are from another public source such as workers compensation. If you are receiving disability benefits from workers’ compensation or from a public disability program, your SSDI payment amount may be reduced.

    The total amount of your disability benefits are added together. The payments from SSDI plus workers’ compensation plus the public disability benefits may not exceed 80% of your previous average earnings. If they do, your disability benefits will be reduced by the amount above that 80% cap, the “offset” against your benefits.

    How is a “disability” defined by the SSA?

    Disability according to the SSA means a person who is not be capable of undertaking “substantial gainful employment” as a result of a mental and/or physical impairment. In addition, the impairment must also be expected to either (i) last for a period of longer than twelve months or (ii) to result in the death of the disabled person. The term “disability” may be defined differently by the Veterans Administration, the Workers’ Compensation Board and other disability programs.

    Do I need to wait before my disability benefits payments begin?

    Yes - you will have to wait for five months before receiving disability benefits payments. For SSI, the first payment will begin after the fifth month following the month the disability began. For SSD, payments will begin after the fifth month that follows the date of the application for benefits or the date of the disability began.

    If the SSA overpaid me in error, do I have to return the money?

    It depends. SSA will probably send you a notice of the error and demand repayment. If paying back the money would cause an undue hardship and the mistake was not yours but the SSA’s, you may apply for a waiver of overpayment. You can also choose to appeal the SSA decision and, if successful, you would not have to repay the money.

    Can I receive SSDI if I am temporarily disabled?

    Maybe – it depends upon how long your disability is expected to last and its severity. You are not entitled to SSDI if your disability is not expected to last longer than twelve months. In addition to duration, you’re also not eligible to receive SSDI unless your disability prevents you from engaging in “substantial gainful employment”. However, trying to go back to work and failing to be able to do so will not penalize you.

    Can I receive more benefits if my condition worsens?

    No – benefits are paid according to your earnings history for full disability for SSD. If you are receiving SSI, you will be getting a set amount. While that amount will not be increased, some states may supplement the SSI you are being paid.

    What does a “trial work period” mean?

    If you can work, the government doesn’t want you to feel afraid to try for fear of losing your disability benefits payments. You can begin a “trial work period” which lasts for seven months. You must report your progress to the SSA. If you are not successful and are unable to continue working in “substantial gainful employment”, you will not be penalized for trying to return to work and your benefits will not be terminated.

    Does the SSA have a list of illnesses, diseases and impairments that it covers?

    Yes – the SSA Listing of Impairments is available online. However, you still must have a mental and/or physical impairment that prevents you from undertaking substantial gainful employment and you must meet all the requirements in order to be eligible for disability payments.
    I have been out of work for more than a year but am only applying for disability payments now. Can I get paid back pay?
    SSI only pays from the application date. SSDI may pay for up to a year prior to the application date but you will not be paid for the first five months as a result of the SSDI waiting period.

    If I want to apply for disability benefits, will I need an attorney?

    In most instances, it is probably not necessary to have an attorney assist you with the application for disability benefits. However, if you are denied disability benefits or have had them reduced and you wish to appeal a decision by the SSA, it would be advisable to obtain legal advice and professional assistance. It is advisable to have an experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer prepare and represent you for a hearing before an appeals council or an administrative law judge.
    Health, Medical & Social:
    Social Security - SSDI - Social Security Disability Insurance

    Michael M. Wechsler

    Michael M. Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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