If you’ve suffered a permanent disability that prevents you from working, you may have the right to receive disability benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Although this program provides monthly financial payments to qualifying applicants, SSDI recipients may also qualify for other state and federal benefits.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides monthly payments to qualifying individuals who have accumulated sufficient credits in the Social Security system and can no longer work due to a diagnosed medical condition. To obtain SSDI, a person must have a disability that will last at least 12 months or be a terminal condition.
A person’s SSDI payments will depend on the amount of Social Security taxes they have paid and the person’s income level. Dependent spouses and children of disabled individuals on SSDI might also be eligible for benefits. SSDI requires recipients to have an established work history and to have contributed taxes to the Social Security system.
SSDI differs from another disability program administered by the Social Security Administration called Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which pays financial benefits to disabled or elderly individuals with little or no income, regardless of their work history or prior Social Security contributions.
Who Qualifies For SSDI?
To qualify for SSDI, an applicant must have a qualifying disability and sufficient work credits. Employees earn one work credit each calendar quarter if they receive at least $1,160 in employment income. Younger workers need fewer credits to qualify for SSDI. However, all applicants must have a recent work history. Most applicants will need work credits in at least five of the ten years leading up to the onset of their disability.
Applicants also must meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. A team of claims and medical examiners perform a five-step evaluation process to determine whether an applicant has a qualifying disability.
These steps include:
- Determining whether the applicant currently engages in substantial gainful activity – To qualify for SSDI, an applicant must earn little or no monthly employment income. Each year, the SSA sets a threshold amount of monthly income. An applicant whose income exceeds the threshold and engages in substantial gainful activity.
- Evaluating whether an applicant suffers from a severe condition – Examiners will determine whether the applicant’s physical or medical condition or combination of conditions prevents them from working by determining if they can no longer walk, stand, lift, sit, concentrate, or remember instructions.
- Matching the applicant’s condition to a condition on the SSA’s list of impairments – The SSA maintains a listing of physical or cognitive impairments called the “Blue Book” that are considered so severe that any applicant suffering from such a condition automatically qualifies as disabled. However, applicants suffering from an unlisted condition will proceed to the next step in the evaluation process.
- Determining if the applicant can return to previous work – An applicant will qualify as disabled if they can prove that their condition prevents them from returning to the job they held at the onset of disability or any previous jobs in the applicant’s employment history.
- Evaluating whether the applicant can do other kinds of work – Even if an applicant cannot return to a previous job, they will qualify as disabled only if they lack the skills, training, and physical/cognitive capacity to do any other job that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. An applicant approved for SSDI can later undergo work training and terminate their disability benefits once they return to the workforce.
Certain individuals who lack the requisite work history may still apply for SSDI benefits based on a qualifying relative’s work history, including:
- A spouse (age 62 and older) of a qualifying worker
- A spouse of a qualifying worker who cares for a disabled child or a child under 16 years old
- An unmarried child (under 18 or under 19 if in school) of a qualifying worker
- An unmarried adult child of a qualifying worker, if the child has a disability that began before age 22
When To Apply For SSDI
If you believe you have become disabled and can no longer work, you may apply for SSDI benefits immediately. The application process can take several months to complete, and the SSA will not start paying benefits until after the fifth month that the agency determines your disability began. If you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease), you will start receiving benefits as soon as the SSA approves your application.
Average Amount of SSDI You Can Receive
Your SSDI benefits will depend on your average monthly earnings prior to becoming disabled. The Social Security Administration will calculate your average indexed monthly earnings based on your earnings from a maximum of 35 of your top years of earnings, indexed to wage growth. The SSA then calculates your benefit according to a formula that splits your averaged indexed monthly earnings into three parts:
- 90 percent of (as of 2023) the first $1,115 of your average indexed monthly earnings
- 32 percent of (as of 2023) earnings over $1,115 through $6,721
- 15 percent of (as of 2023) earnings over $6,721
According to the SSA, as of April 2023, disabled individuals received an average benefit award of $1,683.32.
SSDI Benefits in NC
In addition to SSDI, other benefits that disabled individuals in North Carolina can access include:
- Monthly supplemental disability payments for elderly, blind, and disabled individuals living in or moving to an adult care facility.
- Cash assistance with living expenses for elderly, blind, or disabled individuals living in an adult care facility or at risk of moving to a facility who would rather stay in their homes.
What Other Benefits Can You Get With SSDI?
After getting approved for SSDI, you may also become eligible for other benefits from the state and federal governments, including:
- An increase in eligibility for COBRA benefits from 18 to 29 months to stay on an employer-sponsored health plan after leaving work due to disability. However, your employer can stop contributing to the premiums, leaving you responsible for the entire premium. Your employer can also charge you 150 percent of the premium after 18 months.
- Medicare, which becomes available after 24 months on SSDI.
- Affordable Care Act insurance subsidies to help pay for private health insurance
- Federal housing benefits
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
If you become disabled due to a work-related injury or illness, you can receive benefits from workers’ compensation, although SSDI and workers’ comp benefits may partially offset one another.
Our SSDI Lawyers Are Here to Help. Contact Us Today
If you have questions about how to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or about other benefits you may be eligible for in addition to SSDI, contact Hardison & Cochran to speak with our SSDI lawyers. Call us today at 252-333-3333 for a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about how our firm can help you seek the disability benefits you need.