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SSI Disability Benefits

Basic Facts About Social Security




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Social Security Branch Offices




The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability benefits to American taxpayers who cannot work because of an illness or disability. Disability benefits are available to all workers who qualify, regardless of age or income level; to qualify, an applicant must already be eligible for Social Security benefits, must be at least 18 years of age, and must have an illness or disability that will prevent the applicant from working for at least a year.

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The application procedure can be initiated at the SSA’s website, or, better, at a local Social Security service center; the process can be cumbersome, especially if an applicant is at first rejected, and working through a “human” agent at a service center may be more effective than following up online and by phone.

The SSA has another program targeted specifically at low-income taxpayers who suffer from illness or disability: Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Applicants over the age of 65, or adults or children under the age of 65 who are disabled or blind, may be eligible; applicants must demonstrate that they are needy, by having limited income or resources. Monthly benefits average around $675, up to about $1,000 for couples; some states will supplement these monthly SSI benefits with additional payments. Also, applicants who become eligible for SSI benefits may also qualify for Medicaid, a state-administered health care program for low-income taxpayers. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia automatically grant Medicaid eligibility to applicants already eligible for SSI benefits.

The Social Security
Administration (SSA)

The best place to begin researching Supplemental Security Income is at the SSA’s website; although it is not possible to directly apply for SSI disability benefits online, you can at least get all the information you need. Start by visiting the Supplemental Security Income home page at the SSA’s website; here you can find basic information about the program, and also determine your eligibility. One link will take you to a Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool; this asks a series of questions to determine if you might qualify, but it is for informational purposes only; working through the questions here is not a formal application for benefits.

When you’re ready to apply, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (or TTY 1-800-325-0778, if you are deaf or hard of hearing), and make an appointment. Your appointment can take place over the phone, or at your local SSA service center. (You can also simply visit a service center without an appointment, but you may have to wait in queue. Also, you may not have all the documents you need, so it’s always best to call first.) The SSA representative who interviews you will fill out the necessary forms that will become the basis for your application.

If you think you may qualify, don’t hesitate to apply; benefits are not retroactive to the time you first became disabled, but start at the time your application is accepted. If you need assistance, the SSA may appoint a representative to help you through the process. And if your application is rejected, you have the right to appeal. This can be a lengthy and cumbersome process, so it’s best to work in person with a representative at your local service center.

The SSI program is funded through general federal taxes — not through Social Security taxes — and therefore, unlike with Social Security disability payments, any eligible person can apply. You do not require minimal eligibility for Social Security benefits. And the program is not designed to replace income lost through disability, although if your state supplements the SSI benefits and if you also become eligible for Medicaid as a result, the assistance can become significant.