The Qualification Criteria for Social Security Disability

There are two separate disability programs from which you can draw benefits: The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Both programs are meant to provide a source of income to those who are unable to work due to their disability, and both are administered by the federal social security administration (SSA). However, the qualifications that an applicant must meet before being approved for disability under each program are different.

SSDI is really a form of disability insurance, and is covered by title II of the Social Security Act. It is meant to function much as any private insurance coverage would, in that you pay a certain premium (in this case it's automatically taken out of your pay check FICA taxes) to collect a certain benefit (disability benefits) should you need it.

However, SSDI doesn't fully cover everyone that works or has worked in the past; only those who have worked enough in the last 10 years. If you are 31 or older, in order to qualify for full SSDI coverage, you have to have earned at least $21,000 over the last 10 years; and a total of $42,000 since you began working.

Of course, nothing in government can be easy, so it's important to note that the SSA doesn't calculate earnings in dollars, but rather in work credits. As of 2008, you get 1 work credit for every $1,050 you earn in three consecutive months, so the amount the SSA credits you can receive each year is capped at 4 ($4,000) work credits per year. The dollar amount associated with 1 work credit is recalculated by SSA each year for inflation. If you have not earned this amount, you will not qualify for full disability coverage under the SSDI program, but may be eligible for SSI benefits.

SSI is provided for under title XVI of the Social Security Act, and this disability program is for disabled individuals who have not worked enough to qualify for SSDI and who can demonstrate financial need. To qualify for SSI you do not have to have earned any work credits, but you do have to prove that your total assets do not exceed $2,000 ($3,000 if you are married) with the exception of one car and your home. In some cases social security will allow you to collect SSI for a few months while you try to sell some of your excess assets, such as an extra car or other property that is in your name (other than your residence).

It is possible to be approved for both SSDI and SSI. SSDI payments are based on the amount you have earned, so those who have worked a short time or with a history of lower incomes may be eligible for only a small SSDI benefit, and, if there is an economic need, may collect SSI benefits as well.

Both SSD and SSI programs award benefits only to those who are unable to participate in SGA (substantial gainful activity) due to a severe medical impairment, be it physical or mental. SGA equates to a specific earnings limit per month, so if you are able to earn more than that you will not qualify for any type of disability benefits. In addition, both SSD and SSI require that your medical condition is not expected to improve with medical treatment over a period of not less than one year.

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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