Social Security Disability

The majority of Americans don’t plan for what could happen if they become disabled. However, the likelihood is stronger than most people realize. According to the Social Security Administration, before reaching retirement age, a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled.

Social Security has a number of benefits available to adults who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is predicted to last at least one year, or is terminal. There are no benefits for conditions resulting in partial disability. There are benefits for children with disabilities as well, and in some cases, for family members of the person affected. Disabilities that are eligible for benefits can be either physical or mental.

How Is Disability Defined?

The Social Security Administration defines disability as the inability to do a “substantial gainful activity,” or SGA. SGA requires significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both, while working either part-time or full-time. Generally, if an individual earns more than $1,310 per month (unless they are blind), they are considered to be performing SGA. In order to meet the definition of being disabled, your medical conditions must prevent you from performing work activities. “Gainful” means that the work can be done for pay or profit.

There are two types of Social Security disability benefits: Supplementary Security Income, and Social Security Disability Insurance.

Supplementary Security Income

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program benefits adults and children who have disability or blindness who have limited income and resources. It is a federal program funded by general income taxes and provides monthly payments for basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. There are also residency requirements. A recipient must be a US citizen, or national, or a qualified alien; live in one 50 States, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands; and not be absent from the US for a full calendar month or 30 or more consecutive days.

SSI payments are also made to people aged 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial qualifications. Payments are determined according to the living arrangement of the recipient and their income (including wages, other benefits received, in-kind income such as food and shelter given for free, and income of family members) and resources (such as cash and other financial assets, land, life insurance, personal property, vehicles, and resources of family members). The payment amount also depends on the state the recipient lives in, as some states add money to the federal SSI payment. Iowa is one of those states.

The recipient’s living arrangement also partly determines the payment. Some of the factors considered are if the recipient lives in their own house, apartment, or mobile home, in someone else’s household, or in a group care facility, hospital, or nursing home.

An individual may be able to receive SSI if their resources are worth $2,000 or less (not including certain resources like the family’s primary home and vehicle). A couple may be able to get SSI if they have resources worth $3,000 or less.

In January of 2022, over 7.5 million Americans received SSI. The total amount paid was over $4.9 million, with an average monthly payment of $624.51. Payments for children had a higher average of $732.72.

How is SSI different from Social Security Benefits?

  • A recipient of SSI can also receive Social Security benefits, and can apply for both programs with the same process. However, the two programs are different in a number of ways. SSI benefits are not determined by work history – meaning how long the recipient worked and paid Social Security taxes.
  • SSI and Social Security are funded differently. SSI is financed by general funds of the U.S. Treasury, collected from personal income taxes, corporate taxes, and other taxes. Social Security taxes collected under FICA do not fund the SSI program.
  • SSI recipients may be eligible for other federal benefits. In most states, SSI recipients also can get medical assistance under Medicaid for expenses such as hospital stays, doctor bills, and prescription drugs, as well as food assistance.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Eligibility for Social Security benefits is determined by how long an employee has worked and paid Social Security taxes. The amount of taxes paid is measured by credits, up to a maximum of four credits a year. In 2022, a worker must earn $6040 total in one year in order to earn four credits. Social Security taxes can be awarded after a worker earns at least 40 credits. However, the number of credits does not affect the amount of the benefit a recipient or their family receives. If you have more than 40 credits for example, the amount of the benefit does not increase.

In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, the recipient has to pass a recent work test to make sure they have accumulated enough credits before they became disabled.

  • Before age 24: A recipient may qualify if they have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when their disability starts.
  • Age 24 to 31: A recipient may qualify if they have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time their disability began.
  • Age 31 or older: A recipient must have at least 20 credits in the 10-year period immediately before their disability began.

In January of 2022, over 9 million Americans received Social Security Disability Insurance. Out of this total, 7.8 million recipients were disabled workers, 94,000 were spouses of disabled workers, and 1.2 million were children of disabled workers. The average monthly payment was $1222.75.

Family Benefits for SSDI

Certain family members of disabled workers can also receive money from Social Security. This includes the recipient’s spouse, divorced spouse, or children, and adult children disabled before the age of 22. Each family member that applies may be eligible for a monthly benefit of up to 50% of the amount of the original recipient. The total limit awarded to a recipient and their family is about 150-180% of the original recipient’s benefit.

Spouses are eligible for benefits if they are 62 or older (unless they collect a higher Social Security benefit based on their record of work) and based on how many months remain before their full retirement age.

If the spouse is caring for the recipient’s child under the age of 16, or an adult child who became disabled before age 22, they may be eligible for benefits.

An ex-spouse may be eligible for benefits if they were married to the recipient for at least 10 years, are at least 62 years old, are unmarried, and are not eligible for an equal or greater Social Security payment based on their own or someone else’s work record.

Children of disabled workers may also be eligible, including biological, adopted and stepchildren, and dependent grandchildren. The child must be unmarried, under the age of 18, be 18-19 years old and a full-time student up to grade 12, or an adult child with a disability that started before age 22.

If a worker dies, their disabled spouse or surviving divorced spouse may be eligible for a widow or widower’s benefit if they are between 50 and 60 years old and their disability started before or within seven years of the worker’s death.

Benefits for Disabled Children

Children with disabilities who were receiving Social Security benefits as a minor child on a parent’s record may qualify to continue those benefits after the age of 18.

An adult with a disability that began before the age of 22 may receive benefits if their parent is deceased, or their living parent is receiving retirement or disability benefits. It is still considered a child’s benefit since it is based on the parent’s Social Security record.

A Disabled Adult Child (DAC) can be an adopted child, or, in some cases a stepchild, grandchild, or step grandchild may be eligible for benefits under the parent’s Social Security record. They must be unmarried, be age 18 or older, have a qualified disability that started before age 22, and meet the definition of disability for adults. The DAC does not need to have any work record, but they must not have substantial work earnings ($1350 per month, or $2260 if the disability is blindness).

Consulting a Lawyer for Your Social Security Disability Application

Navigating the Social Security Disability system is incredibly complex, confusing and intimidating. There is a lot at stake when you apply for SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance for yourself or your family. If your application has any errors or is missing any information, you can be denied benefits you are eligible for. If you have applied previously and been denied, there is an appeals process that you don’t have to go through alone. You should always seek expert legal advice so that you receive the benefits you deserve. At Mueller, Schmidt, Mulholland & Cooling, our experienced team are here to help. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.


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