Guide to Social Security Disability Benefits


Guide to Social Security Disability Benefits

This article was first published by the law firm of Marasco & Nesselbush and suggested for use by SOAR Behavior Services. For more great resources, visit their website at


Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits are available to individuals who need financial assistance because of a life-altering injury or disability that prevents them from working full-time and supporting themselves.

The two major programs, SSDI and SSI, offer a monthly financial benefit that covers everyday living costs. Benefits can be obtained by applying to the Social Security Administration, submitting the required information, and waiting for a decision. However, qualifying for SSDI or SSI can be difficult for various reasons, and help from a lawyer to get approved may be necessary.


SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance, is a program of the federal government financed through payroll taxes. The program provides financial assistance to adults with disabilities who have earned 20 work credits within the last ten years. People who can demonstrate that they have a mental or physical condition resulting from an injury that prevents or restricts their ability to work are usually eligible for SSDI.


Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a federal benefits program funded by general taxes instead of payroll taxes. SSI helps children and adults who meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Disabled
  • Blind
  • Age 65 or older with no work history

The program is open to those with little to no income who are limited to holding down regular employment. It’s similar to Social Security benefits, but qualifying is based on disability instead of income, and no prior work experience is required.


Both programs provide benefits to disabled individuals, but SSDI is intended for adults who had been working before they became disabled. On the other hand, SSI is for people who have been unable to hold a job for any length of time during their lifetimes.


SSDI is for people who have worked up until recently and have been employed in positions covered by Social Security. The disability must meet the SSA’s definition of a disability, and it has to prevent you from working for at least a year. Work credits earned from wages or self-employment are also required, but the income needed for SSDI changes every year. You can earn up to four work credits each year, and you can get all four credits after you’ve earned more than the minimum income for the year.

For example, in 2021, a credit was awarded after a worker earned $1,470 in wages. After earning $5,880 in 2021, a worker received all four credits.


SSI is for those over the age of 65 or unable to work due to disability or blindness. You must have income from earnings or pensions and have little resources to help you survive. The program is not funded through payroll taxes, unlike SSDI, and you’re not required to have work credits when applying.


For both SSDI and SSI, the application process requires information proving that you are unable to work in your field or cannot work at all due to your disability. Getting approved for either type of disability is complicated due to strict criteria and the requirements to prove your eligibility. For your claim to be approved, you will need to obtain medical records that date back to the date you were injured or diagnosed with an illness that interfered with your ability to work.

The qualifying criteria for SSDI include working in jobs that contributed to Social Security and having a medical condition that meets the SSA’s definition of a disability. You must also be unable to work for at least a year after receiving your disability.

How to apply?

SSDI and SSI applications are the same and can be found on the Social Security Administration’s website. Fill out the form to the best of your ability. It is better to complete as many fields as you can rather than leave them blank.


Yes, you can work while you’re receiving SSDI or SSI. SSDI has special rules designed to help people transition from SSDI to full-time employment over time. This program offers you the option of enrolling in a trial work period lasting nine months or enrolling in the Ticket to Work program. If you choose to register for a trial work experience, you must keep your earnings below the monthly limit ($1,310 in 2021). If you stop receiving benefits due to an inability to maintain employment, you may be able to resume receiving benefits without reapplying.


Caregivers can apply on behalf of a family member or friend. However, the individual receiving the benefits must sign the application and related documents. Caretakers may only sign if they hold a power of attorney or are the legal guardians. It is not the responsibility of SSDI/SSI to pay the caregiver’s wages, but recipients may use the funds for wages and other costs associated with providing care.


If you have a vision impairment that prevents you from working, you are eligible to apply for and receive SSDI or SSI. SSDI requires you to have paid into Social Security through payroll taxes, whereas SSI doesn’t. For SSDI, if you do not have enough credits from your wages, you can use the credits of your parents or spouse. SSDI also allows you to work and earn a much higher amount every month ($2,190 in 2021) than you would if you did not have a visual impairment.


The amount provided by SSDI and SSI benefits may or may not be sufficient to live off of. Other government programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP for food and subsidized housing are often available to SSDI/SSI recipients who qualify.



Apply Online for Disability Benefits

Disability Benefits


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