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The Social Security Disability Insurance Program

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Each year, in the month of May, the “Life Happens” organization promotes Disability Insurance Awareness Month. To do our part to help consumers understand how facing a disability may impact their lives, we’re sharing information about the Social Security Administration’s Disability Insurance program.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two programs for disabled Americans: the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSDI is the Administration’s main disability program, while SSI is focused on individuals who meet very low income and asset thresholds. This post focuses on the larger program, SSDI.

The Social Security Administration pays disability benefits to qualified Americans who are unable to work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Of all forms of disability coverage, the definition for SSDI is one of the most stringent. Individuals with partial or sort-term disabilities will not be accepted for benefits. Applicants must meet two earnings tests, the “recent work” test and the “duration of work” test. After passing the first two tests, applications are sent to the state of residence’s Disability Determination Service office, where further research into the application is completed and a decision on approval is reached.

The Social Security Administration describes a five-step process to determine eligibility:

  1. Is the applicant working?
  2. Is the medical condition severe?

  3. Is the medical condition on the “list of impairments?”

  4. Can the applicant do the work they did before the medical condition?

  5. Can the applicant do any other type of work?

Once a claim for benefits is approved, benefits begin six months past the date that the disability was deemed to have occurred.  After receiving disability benefits for two years, Medicare coverage begins automatically.  The following family members may also receive income based on the work of the disabled individual:

  • Spouse, if age 62 or older.

  • Spouse, if caring for the disabled worker’s child who is younger than 16 or disabled.

  • Unmarried children if younger than age 18 or younger than 19 and still in full-time elementary or secondary school.

  • Unmarried children, age 18 or older, if they have a disability that started before age 22.

Through incentives, the SSDI program encourages beneficiaries to work, however, income limits do apply.  Beneficiaries should notify the SSA prior to beginning to work to ensure their disability income is not impacted.  SSDI also provides education, rehabilitation, and job training needed for returning to work.

In February of 2014, the average disability benefit paid to workers was $1,145 per month.  The average spousal benefit was $308 and the average child’s benefit was $342.  10,973,000 Americans were covered by the SSDI program in the month of February.

The information for this post comes from the disability benefits pamphlet on the Social Security Administration’s website. Learn more about the SSDI program and download the pamphlet here.

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