Before you think about filing for the federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) programs, you need to know if you’re eligible.
Most disability lawyers offer free consultations for potential claimants to determine eligibility. But you can also do some initial research on your own before contacting a disability lawyer.
To be eligible for Social Security Disability, you need to qualify on BOTH a medical basis and on a non-medical (i.e. technical) basis. We’ll cover technical eligibility first.
Technical Eligibility for SSDI
An SSDI technical denial occurs when an applicant does not meet the basic, non-medical criteria for disability benefits.
To determine if you meet the technical requirements for SSDI eligibility, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider the following:
- Whether or not you are currently working
- How much you earn in wages and/or salary
- How long you worked before becoming disabled
- When you last worked
- How much you earned in the last 10 years before becoming disabled
To meet the basic technical eligibility requirements, your disability must prevent you from participating in gainful employment. Or if employed on a part-time basis, your earnings must be less than SSA’s “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) limit. The SGA changes every year. For 2021, the SGA limit is $1,310 per month.
In addition to your earnings, the SSA will look at your work history in the last decade.
A work credit = a certain amount of wages/income you earn each year. You can earn a total of four each year.
The amount changes each year. In 2020, one credit = $1,410. To meet SSA’s work credit requirement, you must have a total of 40 credits, 20 of which are earned in the 10 years immediately prior to filing.
To learn more about work credits, including how they’re calculated, click here.
Technical Eligibility for SSI
For SSI benefits, technical factors that determine eligibility include:
- Monthly income from all countable resources
- Available assets from all countable resources
To meet basic technical eligibility requirements for SSI, you must:
- Have countable income of $794 or less per month and countable assets totaling $2,000 or less if you’re single
- Have countable resources $1,191 or less per month and countable assets totaling $3,000 or less if you’re married
- Not exceed the SGA limit
Countable resources for SSI are based on total assets and income available to you at any given time within the month. We wrote a detailed blog post about SSI assets that you may find helpful. Because this is a complex topic, we also encourage claimants to consult with a professional disability lawyer if you have questions.
If you exceed the total countable resources for the SSI program you will receive a “technical denial” from the SSA.
Medical Eligibility for Disability
Now that we’ve covered technical eligibility for Social Security Disability programs, we’ll briefly review medical eligibility.
To qualify for either SSDI or SSI, you’ll need to prove that your condition meets Social Security’s definition of a disability:
“The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.
We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if:
- You cannot do work that you did before;
- We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
- Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.”
In summary, to qualify for disability you’ll need to meet both technical and medical requirements. If you have questions about either, we’d be happy to provide you a free consultation on your claim. Contact us for more information.