What If My Disability Check Is Not Enough To Live On?

When you qualify for disability benefits you will receive a disability check regularly. This regular payment is the amount of disability benefits you qualify for after a calculation has been made by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These benefits are crucial for individuals with disabilities, but their payments don’t always necessarily meet the basic needs of a person who has been diagnosed with a disability and is unable to work.

Understanding Disability Benefits

When you are diagnosed with a medical condition that means you are too disabled to work, there are two types of disability benefits you may be able to access. The first is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) while the second is Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

To be eligible for SSDI disability benefits, you need to have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits. The exact number of credits you’ll need to qualify for SSDI will depend on your age as well as the year you got your disability (i.e., the year you became disabled). You also have to have worked some part of 5 of the last 10 years before becoming disabled.

The average monthly SSDI benefit is only about $1,358. Calculating how much you'll earn depends on how much you've paid into Social Security from previous paychecks.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits

To be eligible for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program managed by the SSA you must meet all of the following four criteria:

  • you must be disabled, blind, or over 65 years;
  • you must be either a United States citizen, or meet very specific and narrow requirements based on your U.S. military service, permanent residency, or refugee status or political asylum;
  • your monthly income cannot exceed the amount set by the state in which you live, which is between $900 and $1,900 per month;
  • the property you own which doesn’t include your home and car must be worth less than $3,000 for a couple, or $2,000 for an individual.

If the SSA approves your SSI disability application, your monthly SSI benefits will consist of cash payments of $943 per month for eligible individuals (up from $914 per month in 2023), or $1,415 per month for eligible couples (up from $1,371 per month in 2023), minus part of your income. The state that you live in may supplement these SSI benefit amounts with an additional payment. This additional payment is called the “State Supplementary Payment.” Depending on the U.S. cost of living, the federal amount for benefits is adjusted in January of each new year.

To find out exactly how much money you can receive each month from disability benefits, use our Disability Calculator.

The Reality of Insufficient Disability Benefits

Many beneficiaries of disability benefits struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes there are reasons for this which may include any or all of the following:

  • the calculations for your disability benefits are not correct;
  • the annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) don’t match current prices;
  • as a recipient of either SSDI or SSI but you have no other income source.

Legal Assistance and Advocacy

If the SSA initially denies your disability benefits application, you should strongly consider seeking legal representation. This is because a disability lawyer can help you appeal your denial by evaluating the evidence you have provided that supports your claim. A disability attorney can also help you add additional medical evidence when you are going through the appeal’s process.

To get connected with a disability lawyer near you who can help you today, fill out our Free Case Evaluation form on this page right now.

Exploring Alternative Income Sources

There are several ways of accessing more financial help—apart from working—as the earning limits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients is limited to just $2,590 per month for blind individuals and $1,550 for non-blind individuals.

  1. If your total income isn’t sufficient to meet your daily requirements and depending on your situation, you may qualify for more assistance from Medicare via the program Extra Help to help cover medication-related costs.
  2. You may also qualify for help from the Patient Advocate Foundation Co-Pay Relief.
  3. You may qualify for food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
  4. If you are on disability benefits, you may be able to seek help with your housing costs, such as accessing public housing options or help with rent.
  5. The Lifeline Program from the Federal Communications Commission assists those with low incomes to cover phone service. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for phone use discounts through this program.
  6. If you wish to attempt working whilst receiving SSDI, the SSA permits you to continue receiving benefits while you work to earn money. The Ticket to Work program provides different benefits to people receiving disability benefits who return to work. You may also want to participate in a Trial Work Period (TWP) while on SSDI. In 2024, any month you earn over $1,110 (up from $1,050 in 2023) will be considered a trial work month. You can continue receiving your full SSDI benefits for up to a maximum of nine months within 60 months.

The Impact of Inadequate Disability Benefits

Americans with disabilities and chronic injury or illness tend to use more health services and pay more for healthcare than those without disabilities due to them being in poorer health.

There are several consequences of living on an insufficient income such as:

  • the potential negative effects on both mental and physical health which could lead to low self-esteem and lack of willingness to participate in any aspects of normal everyday life because of financial constraints;
  • the challenges faced when trying to maintain a decent standard of living are not easy when on a limited income and you may not be able to afford to buy the right food for a balanced diet or pay your monthly rent which could end up with an eviction taking place;
  • the risk of slipping into poverty and even homelessness.

Advocacy Efforts for Change

To help those who are suffering from a disability, the following actions monitor the level of disability benefits and help to improve it:

  • legislative actions and reforms take place to increase disability benefits;
  • grassroots movements and advocacy organizations push for improvements in disability benefits;
  • individuals raising awareness about the issue of insufficient disability benefits payments and trying to push for increases in the payments.

Navigating the Disability Benefits System

There are several tips for applying for disability benefits which include:

  • seeking help from a disability benefits attorney;
  • including up-to-date medical records—including diagnostic test results among other types of documents—with your application;
  • including your doctor’s report which includes the impact of your treatment program in your disability benefits application;
  • if your application is denied, understanding the appeals process for denied claims.


When applying for disability benefits you need to know which benefit you are entitled to if your claim is to be approved. It could be SSI or SSDI. Once you have determined your eligibility you should ensure you include all the relevant information which supports your application. When you are approved for disability benefits you may find the amount you receive is insufficient to meet your needs. If this happens to you it’s important to seek extra help. If you have difficulties maintaining a decent standard of living you should ensure you seek help from a disability benefits attorney who can help you get access to disability benefits as well as other sources of income support available to you.

You should seek a Free Case Evaluation so that you can quickly benefit from the disability benefits available to you, so you don’t feel the effects of financial insecurity because you are unable to work due to your disability.

Additional Resources