Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI) are federal benefit programs for people who cannot work due to injury or illness. SSI and SSDI can be confusing and hard to understand applications. So, what do you do when you have questions or need help applying for them?
TWL interviewed Atticus, a social enterprise and public interest law firm, about important questions that you might have or want to know the answers to in regards to SSI and SSDI. Atticus is there to help you navigate the process, help you understand the application better, get instant advice, and connect with a legal representative. If you have more questions than the Q&A below, make sure to reach out to Atticus with further questions.
1. How do I know what to do when I need to apply for SSI or SSDI?
I always say that I want to speak with anyone who has a diagnosis or injury that they believe will keep them out of work for at least a year. With both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are designed for people who have a medical diagnosis or injury that will keep them out of work for at least a year.
One mistake we see people make is waiting to apply until they have already been out of work for at least a year. By doing that, you could be missing out on a year’s worth of benefits! As soon as you believe you will be out of work for at least a year, it is time to start exploring whether you are eligible for SSDI or SSI. If you aren’t sure, you can ask your doctor what your treatment will look like, what your prognosis for recovery is, and whether you will be able to return to work.
2. How do I know when I am eligible for SSDI or SSI?
Both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) are federal programs designed for people with a diagnosed medical condition that will prevent them from working for at least 12 months. The technical eligibility (such as how much money you make or your age) is different for each program, as is what a beneficiary gets. The medical eligibility for both programs is the same: you must have a diagnosed medical condition that will keep you from working (although you can do some limited work) for at least a year.
For SSDI, generally, a person should be making less than $1,470.00/month at a job, be younger than 66, and have worked about five of the last ten years. If you are awarded benefits, you get Medicare and up to about $3,600.00/month depending on your work history.
For SSI, generally, an individual should be receiving less than $914.00/month from any source of income and have less than $2,000.00 in assets (not counting things like your home). If you are married, the income and asset limits are a bit higher. If a person is granted SSI, they get Medicaid and up to $914.00/month.
You can apply for both programs at the same time and, in some cases, a beneficiary can be on both programs at the same time.
While there are general rules for eligibility, the evaluation is involved and there are exceptions to the rules, so please reach out to us to determine your eligibility because we can offer individualized advice based on the specifics of your situation.
3. What’s the best way to find out what disability benefits are right for me?
That is a great question! Along with SSDI and SSI, there may be other benefit options that are right for you. We have a more detailed breakdown on our website (here) that walks through common disability benefits, in addition to SSDI and SSI. This might be a good place to start for many people.
You can also call us here at Atticus! Many of our conversations start with someone coming to us saying something like “I have this medical condition or this injury; I can’t work anymore and I am not sure what to do next.” You can take our 2-minute quiz here to help identify whether you are eligible for SSDI or SSI and get connected with one of our on-staff lawyers or intake specialists today.
4. What does it look like when I meet with Atticus?
Our goal is to get as many eligible people connected with federal disability benefits (SSDI and SSI) as we can. We act as the equivalent of a patient navigator for anyone in the disability application process.
When we connect with someone looking for help they speak with an intake specialist on our staff, and that intake specialist can help them identify what benefits they should explore and can connect them with a lawyer or disability rep to help them through the rest of the process. If they want to continue the application process on their own, we can provide resources and input on next steps for applying (for example, letting folks know they should get specialist care and then call us back; we give out our Guide to Applying for SSI to folks doing their initial SSI application). If they are not eligible for our services, we can often point them in the right direction for other resources they may be looking for (for example, help with housing or signing up with Medicaid).
While I genuinely think most of the folks I have spoken with could benefit from having an attorney or legal representative help them with the process, we also speak to folks who can and should apply on their own and get approved without legal help–often due to the severity of their condition–and we let them know that. If they still want the help, we are happy to refer them to an attorney or legal representative.
If they are eligible for our services and want legal help for the process, we connect them with a legal representative or attorney who we think would be a good fit for them based on the specifics of their case, such as: location, case stage, medical condition, etc. We only work with attorneys that we have hand-picked and vetted. Those attorneys and legal representatives don’t pay to join our network or sign up for a membership with us; we just form relationships with lawyers and reps who we think are very good at their jobs.
You may be wondering how everyone gets paid! All SSDI and SSI attorneys and legal representatives get paid on contingency, so they only get paid if they win their client’s case. If they don’t win, the attorneys (and we) get nothing. The federal government actually sets how much an SSDI/SSI attorney can get paid so it is the same across the board: 25% of only the first check that someone gets from the Social Security Administration should they win their case, capped at $7,200.
Atticus gets paid by the attorneys that we refer a case to the same way the attorneys get paid by the Social Security Administration. If the attorney or legal representative wins, we get 25% of whatever the attorney got from SSA. That is never passed on to the client (so the amount of money taken out of the client’s first check is always the same). Getting paid this way allows us to provide free advice and resources to folks we speak with whether or not they are eligible, want an attorney, or end up using our services.
5. What steps should I take right now?
If you are ready to explore SSDI or SSI, applied in the past and been denied, or are in the application process but just aren’t sure what to do next, you can call Atticus. Our mission is to tear down barriers between people in crisis and the aid they need. Atticus can help identify the next step for you.