How Can I Get Social Security Disability If I Have Not Worked For A Long Time?

Social Security Disability is based upon an insured status that is gained through work activity. If an individual has not worked for a long time, they still may be eligible for Social Security benefits if they have not been working due to a disabling condition or conditions.

However, I think it is important to explain what makes an individual insured so that it is clear how an individual who has not worked for a long could be insured for disability.

Social Security Disability insured status has two components: being fully insured and being disability insured.

An individual earns fully insured status by earning one quarter of coverage (every year Social Security determines a monetary amount of earnings that equals one quarter of coverage) for each year of their life until the year prior to becoming sixty-two.

The amount of quarters of coverage needed for fully insured status depends upon when an individual became unable to perform substantial gainful work activity (onset of disability). The least number of quarters of coverage, or work credits, an individual needs to be fully insured is six.

If an individual has fully insured status, they still have to be "disability insured" in order to be eligible for Social Security Disability. To be "disability insured", an individual must have worked twenty of the last forty work quarters prior to becoming disabled. Basically, this means an individual must have worked five out of the ten years prior to becoming disabled.

There are special rules and exceptions that apply to the 20/40 rule, especially for individuals who are thirty-one years or younger. To put it more simply, an individual's age and work activity prior to becoming disabled will determine how many quarters of coverage or work credits they need have to be both fully insured and disability insured.

Therefore, if an individual has not worked in a long time but they became disabled at some point in the past when they were working, they still may be entitled to file for Social Security Disability benefits even if their DLI, or date last insured (the point at which they were still covered, or insured, for Social Security Disability) is in the past as well.

What if an individual simply is not insured at any point in their life but have become disabled? Social Security does have a need-based disability program for individuals, who have not worked, not worked in long time, are no longer insured for Social Security Disability, or who are children. This program is known as Supplemental security income, or SSI.

To be eligible to receive SSI benefits, an individual or child must be found medically disabled and meet certain income and resource limits (i.e. the children's parents must meet the income and resource limits).

Unfortunately, if an individual is not insured for Social Security Disability and they have income or resources (i.e. assets) that are above the limits of the SSI disability program, they will not be eligible for any type of disability benefits from the social security administration.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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