You may be surprised to find out that not everyone who is disabled can apply for SSI or SSDI benefits. SSA imposes several technical criteria on potential applicants that they must meet before they can even apply for SSI or SSDI benefits.
To apply for either SSI or SSDI, you must not be working above a certain level, called substantial gainful activity, or SGA. SGA is defined in a dollar amount that changes every year. In 2018, the SGA level is $1,180 per month. Even if you are earning more than the SGA level each month, if you are able to work only because you are receiving accommodations or special help at work, SSA may treat your income as if it is below the SGA level. If you are earning less than this amount per month, you have passed the first hurdle.
If you are applying for SSDI, you also must have worked the requisite number of years and paid Social Security taxes to be insured under the Social Security disability insurance program. This is where the name Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) comes from. Additionally, you must have worked recently enough that your insured status has not expired. The work requirements vary by age, but generally speaking, you must have worked 10 of the past 20 years prior to the onset of your disability to qualify. Younger workers are required to have worked fewer years.
If you are applying for SSI, there is no requirement that you have worked a certain number of years.
Income & Resource Limits – SSI only
You may apply for SSDI no matter your income and resources, so long as your income is below the SGA level. However, you may only apply for SSI if your income and resources are below set limits.
SSI Income Limits
The income limit changes every year, and is usually the same as the Federal Benefit Rate. For 2018, the income limit is $750 per month for an individual, and $1,125 per month for a couple. Social Security has special rules for what types of income they will count toward the income limit, and how they will count it. Therefore, even if it seems like your income may be over the limit, you may still qualify under their rules.
SSI Resource Limits
The resource limit is $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple. However, not all of your resources count toward the resource limit. Property such as your home, one vehicle, burial plots, and household goods and personal effects, will not be counted toward the resource limit.
Once you have met the threshold for eligibility, you then must supply information concerning your disabling condition(s), work history, and educational history. The same information is needed whether you are applying for SSI or SSDI. We will explore the specific information you will need to include in your application in Episode 2: How Do I Apply?