Benefits for People with Disabilities in the USA

In the USA, the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programmes are the largest of several Federal programs to provide assistance to people with disabilities. These programmes have considerable differences, but both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either programme.

Social Security Disability Benefits

According to figures from the US Government a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to the individual and certain members of their family if they are “insured.” This is taken to mean that the individual has worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

To qualify for benefits, the individual must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security. Through working, an individual gains Social Security work credits based on their total yearly wages or self-employment income – up to four credits can be earned each year. It is important to note that the amount needed for a credit changes from year to year. In 2008, for example, one credit was earned for each $1050 of wages or self-employment income. Therefore in 2008, it was necessary to have earned $4,200 in order to receive four credits.

The number of work credits an individual needs to qualify for disability benefits depends on their age when they become disabled. Generally, a person requires 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year they become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

The person must then have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. In general, if an individual has been unable to work for a year or more because of a disability then they are eligible for monthly cash benefits. These benefits will usually continue until the individual is able toresume their work on a regular basis. There are also a number of special rules, called “work incentives,” that provide continued benefits and health care coverage to help individuals make the transition back to work. If a person is receiving Social Security disability benefits when they reach full retirement age, then their disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement programme funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). SSI is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

The most convenient way for an individual to determine whether they are eligible is the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). BEST is available in English and Spanish. BEST supplies users with eligibility information based on answers they give to a number of questions. However, BEST does not represent an application for benefits.

SSI also has a series of fact sheets called SSI Spotlights that take an in–depth look at some of the programme rules. At present there are 28 fact sheets on a range of SSI topics, e.g., living arrangements. SSI Spotlights are designed to supplement general guidelines.

(Submitted by Dr Faiz Kermani)

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