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
Agency to Expand Field Office Hours

Last week, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that the agency will expand its hours nationwide. Effective March 16, 2015, SSA field offices will be open to the public for an additional hour on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  A … Continue reading

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Monday, January 26, 2015 5:41:31 PM

House Rules for 114th Congress Include Harmful Social Security Provision

Last week, the House of Representatives adopted its rules of procedure for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5). Included in the measure was an unprecedented Social Security-related provision that will affect the ability of Congress to prevent a 20% cut … Continue reading

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Monday, January 12, 2015 4:26:11 PM

Senate Hearing Focuses on the Importance of Social Security for Women

Last week, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on “Social Security: Is a Key Foundation of Economic Security Working for Women?” Witnesses were: Barbara Perrin of Eugene, OR; Catherine J. Dodd, Ph.D, RN, Chair of the Board of … Continue reading

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Monday, December 15, 2014 2:49:01 PM

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