Social Security Issues for People with Disabilities

Our nation’s Social Security system provides benefits to over 56 million people, including over 11 million people with disabilities. It insures individuals and family members for when a worker retires, dies, or acquires a significant disability. Social Security is extremely important to people with disabilities, who often rely on benefits for the majority of their income. Social Security plays a vital role in helping people with disabilities to live independently in the community and meet their basic needs.

Social Security Old-Age, Survivors’, and Disability Insurance

Social Security was created in 1935 to provide a safe, efficient system of insurance for American workers and their families. Social Security is an earned benefit with dedicated funding from payroll contributions paid by workers and their employers (also known as the FICA tax). Generally, to be covered a worker must have worked for long enough and recently enough, and earned enough, to have sufficient FICA credits – typically, about 10 years. Benefits are based on the worker’s earnings history and are generally modest, averaging a little over $1,100 per month for all beneficiaries.

People with disabilities and their families access benefits from all three parts of the Social Security system:

  • Disability Insurance – assists disabled workers, their children, and spouses. To qualify, a worker must meet Social Security’s strict disability standard, demonstrating impairments that are “expected to last 12 months or result in death” and are so severe that they preclude substantial gainful activity (SGA), given the person’s current circumstances. When a worker qualifies, the worker’s spouse and child(ren) also may be eligible for monthly benefits. Each eligible child may get up to one-half of the worker’s full disability benefit. Disabled adult children (DACs) of workers may qualify for benefits under their parent’s earning record if the adult child’s disability started before age 22.
  • Retirement Insurance – assists retirees with disabilities, their disabled adult children (DACs), and their retired spouses, including those with disabilities.
  • Survivors Insurance – assists survivors of a deceased worker including disabled adult children (DACs), minor children (including those with disabilities), and disabled widow(er)s.

Social Security beneficiaries also qualify for Medicare. People who qualify for Social Security because of a disability have a 24-month waiting period before they can begin to receive Medicare.

Supplemental Security Income

Many people with disabilities also benefit from another program administered by the Social Security Administration, Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI provides benefits for people who are aged, blind, or disabled and who have little or no income or savings. SSI provides monthly benefits to help people meet their basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Benefits average a little over $500 a month. To qualify, a person age 18 or older must have a significant disability -- that meets the same strict standard used for Social Security Disability Insurance -- and must meet the SSI income and asset requirements. Also, children under 18 with significant disabilities can receive SSI if their families have little income and resources. Unlike the three Social Security programs described above, SSI has no work history or prior contribution requirements, and is funded by general revenues.

Usually, a SSI beneficiary is also eligible for Medicaid. However, each state has the option of setting its Medicaid eligibility rules, and some states set eligibility for Medicaid to be more restrictive than the federal SSI standard.

Strengthening Our Social Security System

Because Social Security and SSI – along with related Medicare and Medicaid benefits – are so important to people with disabilities, strengthening the Social Security system and ensuring its long-term availability is a high priority for The Arc and the disability community.

The Arc’s Legislative Agenda includes many recommendations for improving the Social Security system’s design and administration and ensuring that Social Security will be there for future generations. The Arc believes that any proposals to reform Social Security must be carefully evaluated for their impact on current and future beneficiaries, including people with disabilities. We also believe that Social Security’s long-term financial future must be considered outside of a budget reduction context.

Current Social Security Headlines

The Capitol Insider » Social Security
Social Security – Institute of Medicine Issues Report on “Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children”

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has issued a new report, “Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children.” The Social Security Administration commissioned this report to identify trends in the prevalence of mental … Continue reading

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015 11:21:09 AM

Social Security – New National, State, and Congressional District Data

The Social Security Administration has published state SSDI fact sheets that provide data by state and Congressional district on how many workers with disabilities, their children and spouses receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); the average annual SSDI benefit in … Continue reading

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Wednesday, September 09, 2015 9:27:53 AM

Social Security – 2015 Trustees Report Released

Last week, the Social Security Board of Trustees released “The 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds.” The 2015 report finds that Social Security has large … Continue reading

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015 11:04:16 AM

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