Do I qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

Q: Do I qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

A: The Social Security disability program is America’s safety net. It includes the so-called “regular” disability program (SSDI), the program that calculates benefits based on a work record within the past five years. There is also Supplemental Security Income  (SSI), for people with no appreciable earnings record. SSI protects the very young, the homeless, the mentally ill – people whose impairments make them unemployable.

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must have an impairment that prevents any kind of full time work, even the lightest job. Your disability must have lasted or be expected to last 12 consecutive months.

Before even arriving at the question of whether a person is disabled, Social Security screens applicants for SSI eligibility, based on financial assets and countable income. The medical disability standard is the same for all Social Security disability programs. It is also possible to be eligible for both SSI and “regular” Social Security disability payments.

If past earnings cause the SSDI payment to be low, it may be supplemented up to the SSI amount if all financial qualifications are met. SSI eligibility entitles a person to immediate state Medicaid coverage in most cases. SSDI gives entitlement to Medicare after a waiting period.

The basic monthly SSI payment in 2010 has been $674 for one person or $1011 for a disabled couple. SSI has an asset limitation and evaluates resources (the things you own) to see if you have more than $2000 for an individual or $3000 for a couple. The value of a home and usually of a car is excluded. There is no asset limit for SSDI, it is like an insurance policy.

Cash is a countable asset for SSI, as are bank accounts, stocks and bonds. It also includes earnings and anything that can be converted to cash. Social Security benefits count, and so do other pensions and the value of goods and services you are given by someone else – such as food, clothing and shelter.

To get SSI, you are required to apply for any other available benefits, like food stamps, Medicaid and VA benefits.