The short answer is, Social Security does not provide temporary disability benefits. In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have a condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disability, and that condition must be expected to last at least twelve continuous months or result in your death.
One exception to this rule is the closed period of disability. In cases like this, you suffer from a condition that renders you completely disabled for at least twelve months, but your condition is expected to improve, or it has improved by the time you get to your disability hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Please note: closed periods of disability payments can only be awarded by an ALJ at a Social Security disability hearing.
At your disability hearing, if the ALJ determines that you meet the disability severity requirements for the appropriate amount of time but does not expect the condition to be permanent, he or she will award you benefits for a closed period, or the period of time during which you were completely disabled. Once you have received benefits for the entirety of the closed period, your monthly benefit payments will cease.
What if you do not qualify for SSDI because you do not meet the time requirement, but you are still completely disabled? There are four primary sources of temporary disability benefits, and SSDI is only one of them. The other three sources are workers’ compensation benefits, private disability insurance, and state government-sponsored short-term disability insurance programs.
Workers’ compensation benefits are only offered if you suffer an accident or injury at your place of work while on the job. If that situation applies to you, seek medical treatment immediately. Then, work with your human resources department to complete the paperwork so that you do not miss any important deadlines.
Private disability insurance is typically paid for and offered through your employer, so contact your human resources department to learn more about your coverage, if any. Although you can pay for your own short- or long-term disability insurance, the plans can be very expensive. Speak to a financial advisor before opening up a policy on your own.
Unfortunately, only a few states provide state government-funded short-term disability insurance: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island also offer paid leave programs for their residents. Some states that do not offer temporary disability insurance might provide assistance to low-income disabled residents in other ways, such as Maryland, which provides cash, medical, and housing assistance.
If you live in one of the five states that does provide short-term disability insurance, go to your state’s department of labor or employment development department to get an application form to file your claim. Alternatively, your human resources department may also have forms available for you to use. You will complete a portion of the form, and your employer and/or doctor will complete another portion before the claim can be filed.
Each state-sponsored program has its own requirements, but they almost all feature some part of the following: 1) you must reach a minimum earnings amount; 2) your weekly benefit will amount to approximately 60% of your wages; 3) you need to submit medical records or complete a medical exam to prove your disability; 4) your illness or injury cannot be work-related; 5) benefits cannot last more than 26-30 weeks; and 6) there will be a one-week waiting period before benefits are payable to you.
It is important to remember that, even if you are approved for state-sponsored short-term disability insurance coverage, that is not the same thing as job protection; your employer is under no obligation to keep your position waiting for you when your disability has ended. If you are looking for job protection as well, you must look to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or a state medical leave law.