Social Security expert Tom Margenau has written another fact sheet — this time on Social Security disability. You can get a copy by e-mailing him at the address at the bottom of this article.
Here are excerpts from his description of the fact sheet:
First, there is an introduction that discusses the subjective nature of the disability program. Unlike Social Security retirement and survivor benefits, which have very cut and dried eligibility factors and evidentiary requirements, disability, by its very nature, can be a very wishy-washy subject. In other words, exactly how disabled is too disabled to qualify for benefits? And this lack of eligibility clarity is compounded by the fact that what one person considers a disabling condition is very different from what someone else may consider a disabling condition. The Social Security Administration tries to objectify the process by establishing disability criteria for each of the hundreds of different kinds of physical and mental impairments that may afflict a person. But despite their best efforts, the ultimate decision about whether a person is disabled or not is usually subjective.
The next section of my new fact sheet explains that SSA administers two entirely different disability programs that are often confused with one another. First, there is Social Security disability benefits. To qualify for these, you must be “insured,” which means you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a prescribed period of time. Then there is the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, disability program. SSI is a welfare program (funded out of general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes). So to qualify for SSI, your income and assets must be below certain levels.
The next section defines disability. It primarily explains that the inability to work, not just the disabling impairment itself, is the key to qualifying for benefits. For example, there are many people with disabilities (someone who is blind or someone confined to a wheelchair, for example) who have productive careers and are working full time. Even though such a person is “disabled,” he or she would not qualify for Social Security or SSI disability benefits. But if you are unable to engage in what the law calls “substantial gainful activity” for at least a year or more, then you can usually be considered disabled.
Another part of the fact sheet takes on the topic of disabled children. In a nutshell, the rules say that the minor children of a retired, disabled or deceased worker will get monthly dependent’s benefits until age 18. But benefits can continue beyond that age, and even into adulthood, if a child is disabled. And some disabled children from poor families may qualify for SSI disability benefits.
Yet another section discusses the effect that other public or private benefits have on the Social Security disability program. Most have no impact, with one notable exception. There is a law that says the combination of your Social Security disability benefit and any state worker’s compensation you get cannot exceed 80 percent of your average salary before you became disabled. If they do, then one or the other will be reduced.
The next part of the fact sheet provides a very brief overview of the work incentive provisions of the Social Security disability program. In brief, the rules allow a person getting disability benefits to try working and earning some money (for a while) without impacting their eligibility for monthly payments.
And finally, there are tips on how to report alleged fraud. Even though Social Security disability eligibility criteria are generally considered very stringent and exclusionary (in other words, it is quite difficult to get benefits in the first place), sometimes it seems that everyone claims to know a neighbor or uncle or sister-in-law who is getting disability but doesn’t deserve them. If you know such an alleged fraudster, this section tells you how to turn them in.
To get a free digital copy of this disability fact sheet, send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.