The Social Security disability spousal benefits loophole is a confusing term which refers both to a category of rules and benefits impacting disabled spouses AND traditional Social Security retirement benefits. In this blog, we discuss SSDI, or disability spousal benefits, only. If you are retired by Social Security’s definition, click here to learn more about Social Security spousal benefits for retired individuals.
Spousal Disability Benefits and Social Security
SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are two different programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) . While both programs provide financial assistance to individuals with disabilities, they have different eligibility requirements and benefit structures. Let’s explore the benefits available to spouses under each program.
SSDI Benefits for Spouses
SSDI is a federal insurance program funded by workers with automatic deductions from their earnings. Individuals must have significant work credits to meet the non-medical requirements for the program and receive benefits. In the case of SSDI spousal benefits, eligible disabled spouses who do not have sufficient work credits may also be eligible for disability benefits thanks to their spouse’s work history. This is known as a spousal benefit.
There are two common scenarios we’ll discuss below that typically trigger SSDI spousal benefits. The first occurs with the death of a spouse. When a spouse dies who was eligible for SSDI due to their past work and earnings history, the surviving spouse may access their benefits should they become disabled. This occurs most frequently with spouses between the ages of 50 and 60 years who have stayed home to raise children or have a lower earnings history than their deceased spouse.
In this scenario, if the surviving spouse is unable to work due to severe medical impairments, they must apply for the SSDI program, meet the medical eligibility requirements for the program, and be found ‘disabled’ by the SSA. Once approved, they can elect to receive their spouse’s monthly disability benefit payment if it is larger than they would receive based on their own work history record.
A second common scenario occurs when a spouse becomes disabled and their spouse is caring for them as well as a child under 16 years of age. In this case, the spouse acting as the primary caregiver may qualify to receive a monthly benefit payment. The payment amount varies based on the disabled spouse’s work history and earnings contribution. And, the eligible spouse does not need to be disabled by SSA’s definition to receive this payment. However, if the spouse works outside the home, earning more than $21,240 annually in 2023, the spousal benefit is reduced by $1 for every $2 earned over the limit.
Finally, to receive an SSDI spousal benefit, you must be married for at least one year. Disabled spouses who qualify for individual SSDI benefits (not spousal benefits) can receive those benefits simultaneously with no penalty or impact on the other.
SSI Benefits for Spouses
Unlike SSDI, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is needs-based, not work-based. This means there are no SSI spousal benefits where a spouse is eligible to receive benefits due to a partner’s work history. But, there is no rule against both disabled spouses receiving SSI simultaneously.
The maximum monthly SSI benefit for individuals in 2023 is $914. But, if both spouses receive SSI, Social Security pays them as a couple at a monthly rate of $1,371. These amounts are adjusted annually with cost of living metrics.
So, while spouses can qualify for SSI, collectively they would receive less than they might as individuals, depending on their joint income, whether they have children and other factors.
Winston-Salem Disability Lawyers
Social Security’s spousal disability rules are complicated and difficult to understand which is why many of our clients prefer working with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney. Our firm of local, Winston-Salem disability lawyers helps disabled spouses access the SSDI disability benefits they deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation. As always, there is no fee for our services unless we win your claim.