Social Security Issues for People with Disabilities
Our nation’s Social Security system provides benefits to over 59 million Americans, including over 11 million people with disabilities. It insures individuals and family members for when a worker retires, dies, or acquires a qualifying disability. Social Security is a lifeline for 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 $1,200 per month for all beneficiaries.
People with disabilities and their families access benefits from all three parts of the Social Security system:
Social Security’s Disability Insurance assists workers with qualifying disabilities, 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 that 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, subject to a family maximum.
- Retirement (Old-Age) Insurance – assists seniors, including those with disabilities, as well as their spouses and children (subject to a family maximum).
- Survivors’ Insurance – assists surviving spouses and children of a deceased worker who was insured for Social Security.
- Disabled Adult Child (DAC) Benefit – assists adults with qualifying disabilities who have a parent who is receiving Social Security disability or retirement insurance, or who is deceased and was insured for Social Security. To qualify, the adult child’s disability must have started prior to age 22.
Social Security beneficiaries also qualify for Medicare. People who qualify for Social Security because of a disability typically 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 have qualifying disabilities 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 $540 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 qualifying 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.