Your guide to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs
The average age of retirement in Alabama is 62.
Most Alabamians will work without incident until they retire, at which point they’ll receive monthly retirement benefits administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Unfortunately, a small number of Alabamians will suffer disabling injuries that will force them to stop working well before the age of 62. These individuals will need to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to receive benefits.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the most common programs administered by the SSA and show you how to apply for these programs. Finally, we’ll explain how receiving Social Security benefits might affect your workers’ compensation benefits.
What is Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI)?
Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) is the official name for the Social Security program in the United States.
A person contributes to OASDI through payroll taxes or self-employment taxes. The money that’s contributed is placed in 2 trust funds:
- Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund. Money from this fund is used to pay benefits to qualified retirees and their survivors.
- Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. Money from this fund is used to pay benefits to disabled workers and their families.
When do I need to retire to receive benefits from the OASI Trust Fund?
To receive “retirement benefits,” you must be 62 years old for partial benefits or between 65 and 67 for full benefits. If you were born before 1950, you can receive full benefits at age 65. If you were born between 1950 and 1960, you become eligible for full benefits at age 66, and those born after 1960 become eligible for full benefits at age 67.
You can use the SSA Retirement Estimator to calculate your estimated benefit amount based on your actual Social Security earnings record.
What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
SSDI provides financial benefits to people who are unable to work because of a long-term disability.
To qualify for SSDI, you must meet 2 primary conditions:
- You have a medical condition that meets the SSA’s definition of a “disability.”
The SSA considers you disabled if:
- You can’t perform the work you performed prior to the condition at issue,
- You can’t adjust to other work because of your medical condition (in other words, there are no jobs you can perform), and
- Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least 1 year or result in death.
- You have worked long enough.
As you work, you acquire “work credits” based on your total yearly wages.
In order to qualify for SSDI, you must have accumulated enough work credits. The number of work credits you must acquire depends on your age and when you became disabled.
What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
SSI is similar to SSDI, but it’s for people who don’t have a consistent work history.
To qualify for SSI, you must meet 2 primary conditions:
- You are blind, disabled or at least 65 years old.
The definition of “disabled” for purposes of SSI depends on your age:
- Under the age of 18. If you’re under the age of 18, you’re considered disabled if you have a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations” and can be expected to result in death or last for a period of at least 1 year.
- 18 or older. If you’re over the age of 18, the adult definition of disability (explained in the preceding section) applies.
- You have limited resources and countable income.
Resources are things you own, such as cash, stocks, land, life insurance and personal property. The resource limit is $2,000 for an individual or child and $3,000 for a couple.
Income is anything you receive during a calendar month that can be used to meet your needs for food and shelter (with a few exceptions). Countable income is the amount of income you have leftover after applying all appropriate exclusions.
The income limit is the federal benefit rate (FBR), which is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple in 2022. Remember, not all income is counted by the SSA, which means you can make more than the FBR limit and still qualify.
What medical conditions are considered disabling?
According to the SSA, disability benefits were paid to more than 9.5 million people in 2020.
Here’s a look at the most common medical conditions that qualified for disability benefits:
Other common conditions that may qualify a person for Social Security disability benefits include:
- Systemic sclerosis
- Inflammatory arthritis
- Endocrine disorders
- Respiratory illnesses
- Blindness or vision loss
- Lyme disease
- Sjögren’s syndrome
How do I file for Social Security benefits?
In Alabama, there are 3 ways to apply for Social Security benefits:
- You can apply online.
- You can apply over the telephone by calling 1-800-772-1213 (1-800-325-0778 if you are deaf or hard of hearing).
- You can visit your local Social Security office and apply in person.
Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to gather the following information for your application:
- Medical records already in your possession
- Workers’ compensation information (settlement agreement, date of injury, claim number)
- Names and dates of birth of your minor children and your spouse
- Checking or savings account numbers
What do I do if my disability claim is denied?
It may surprise you to learn that most applicants for disability are initially denied. Fortunately, applicants have 60 days to appeal a decision.
Here is what the appeal process looks like:
- Reconsideration. Someone who didn’t take part in reviewing your initial application will reconsider your application.
- Hearing with an administrative law judge. If your reconsideration is denied, you can request an in-person hearing with the Office of Adjudication and Review (ODAR).
- Review by Appeals Council. The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was correct.
- Federal court review. Your last chance at receiving benefits is appealing to the federal district court.
How does workers’ compensation affect disability benefits?
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are injured while doing their job. The vast majority of employers in Alabama are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits is completely different from eligibility for Social Security benefits.
What’s more, you can receive workers’ compensation benefits AND Social Security benefits simultaneously. However, the total amount of these benefits can’t exceed 80 percent of your average earnings before you became disabled.
Do I need an attorney for my Social Security disability claim?
You’re not required to hire an attorney in order to apply for disability benefits. However, the application process and hearing can be overwhelming. Social Security disability lawyers understand how to gather relevant medical evidence and present a compelling case.
Disability attorneys charge a fee regulated by federal law, which is 25 percent of your past-due benefits or $6,000 (whichever is less).
If you choose to represent yourself and your claim is denied, we strongly recommend meeting with a disability attorney. Initial consultations are usually free, and meeting with an attorney may mean the difference between receiving benefits and being out of work without any source of income.
To find an Alabama disability attorney near you, visit our free online directory.