Topics on this page
- What are Social Security Disability Benefits?
- Income Eligibility
- Sources of Law
What are Social Security Disability Benefits?
Social Security benefits may be available to people who cannot work due to a medical condition that's expected to last at least one year or result in death.
The amount of your monthly disability benefit is based on your lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. The amount of benefit depends on your work and earnings history that was reported to Social Security and your age when you become disabled.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) website provides a Disability Planner to help you determine how much you will receive.
Many figures used to calculate Social Security Disability benefits are revised annually by the Social Security Administration (SSA), the federal agency that administers the program. You can find the figures on the SSA website or by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, or TTY at 1-800-325-0778 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, Eastern time.
When you start receiving disability benefits, certain members of your family also may qualify for benefits on your record.
The SSA has a Disability Starter Kit to help you get ready for your disability interview or online application. Kits are available for adults and for children under age 18.
The starter kits provide information about the specific documents and the information that the SSA will request from you. They will ask for more details during your interview or when you complete the online Disability Report.
The kits also provide general information about the disability programs and the decision-making process that can help take some of the mystery out of applying for disability benefits.
You can get forms, pamphlets, and much more from the disability section of the Social Security Administration's web site.
The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.
"Disability" under Social Security is based on your inability to work. The SSA considers you disabled under Social Security rules if:
- You cannot do work that you did before;
- It is determined that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
- Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
(There are additional ways that you may qualify for benefits based on your age. If you are over age 50, you may prove disability based on grid rules if you are limited to unskilled sedentary work. If you are over 55, you may prove disability based on grid rules if you are limited to either unskilled sedentary or light duty work.)
This is a strict definition of disability. The Maryland Medical Assistance Program also uses this definition of disability from the Social Security Act.
To be eligible for disability benefits, you must show that you worked and paid into the Social Security system for five of the last ten years. The five year requirement is a flexible one depending on how long ago your disability began.
The Social Security Disability Benefits program has additional guidelines that may affect your eligibility.
Benefit amounts can range greatly, anywhere from $100 to $3,148 per month. The formula Social Security uses to determine your benefit amount is complicated, but you can get an estimate of your benefit on the Social Security website by checking your annual benefit statement.
Actual benefit amounts may vary from the estimate in your benefit statement. Factors that can influence your benefit amount include whether you are blind, and if you are getting other government benefits.
You can apply online or visit your local Social Security office.
You can appeal any denial, termination, or reduction of benefits
- You must file an appeal within 60 days of the date of the written notice with which you disagree.
- In addition, you have a 5 day "grace period" to allow for the mailing of the notice to you, making the total amount of time you have to file an appeal 60+5 days.
- Call your local Social Security office if you need help with your appeal.
The Social Security Administration website has more information about appeals.
Sources of Law
Federal Law: U.S. Code, Title 42 §§ 401 to 434, specifically "§ 423. Disability insurance benefit payments"
Federal Regulations: Generally, Code of Federal Regulations, Title 20 §§ 404.1 to 404.2127.
The law and regulations are long and complicated, so it is hard to get a quick overview or to find any specific topic. The best way to get quick, clear information is The Social Security Handbook.