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Social Security Disability is an insurance program — not welfare

Frequently, in the minds of the public, Social Security Disability (SSD) becomes confused with welfare — especially when politicians call it an “entitlement” program.  In reality, Social Security Disability is an insurance program we all pay into while working, in case we become injured or too ill to continue to work and support ourselves.

“You must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for five out of the 10 years prior to becoming disabled to qualify for SSD,” said Courtney L. Quinn, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. “Then, so long as you can document the fact you are disabled, under Social Security’s rules, it doesn’t matter how much money your spouse earns or how much you have in the bank, you are qualified to receive benefits.”

Sometimes SSD becomes confused with Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a federal welfare program that pays a small monthly amount to people who can no longer work due to a disability, who have had little or no work history, or haven’t worked in more than five years.  These people have not paid Social Security taxes.  In fact, the Social Security Administration only manages this program for the federal government.  SSI is not a Social Security benefit.

“You have to think of SSD like any other long-term disability insurance.  You pay premiums and if you need to collect benefits, it’s there for you,” Quinn said.  “People who collect SSD are those who become disabled before they reach retirement age due to a physical or mental impairment. SSD provides an income source to carry them until they are eligible for retirement benefits.”

The amount paid is based on past earnings levels with a maximum benefit of $2,639 per month. It is important that workers apply soon after becoming disabled, because by waiting too long they can lose their insured status, or their benefits can decrease.

There is a five-month waiting period between the time you are initially disabled and the time SSD benefits begin, because the government expects people will have some other form of assistance to carry them over when they first stop working.  Workers Compensation or an employer Short Term Disability plan may provide benefits.  In many cases, however, the claimant does not have another means of support while waiting to receive SSD.

“This is a difficult rule to understand, and in a way it almost becomes a moot point because it often takes two years or more to be awarded SSD benefits from the time the claimant makes the initial application.  Applying for SSD is a complicated process that requires substantial medical evidence to prove the claimant is disabled,” Quinn said.

“It’s a long wait and a financial hardship for most claimants, but when they are awarded benefits, they can rest assured they are not taking ‘welfare’ from the state, rather they are receiving benefits they have earned.”