Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a government program designed to help those lacking financial resources. SSI, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, the requirements to qualify for SSI slightly differ from SSDI.
In order to qualify for SSI, you must be over age 65, disabled, or blind. Children who are blind or disabled may qualify for SSI benefits if they otherwise qualify. Many of its requirements mirror those of SSDI, such as the standards which are used to determine disability for adults. Children under 18 fall under a different category, and may qualify for SSI for a number of conditions which would not qualify an adult for Supplemental Security Income. A child’s SSI is generally paid to his or her parents or guardians, with the idea that the money will be used in caring for the child.
Where SSI differs significantly from SSDI is that the main criteria for disabled individuals to qualify for SSI is a demonstrated financial need. SSDI, on the other hand, is based upon each individual’s time spent working and how much income they made on average.
To qualify for SSI, you must have less than $2,000 worth of net value (the value of all your possessions added up). The car you drive (one vehicle) and the house you live in are exempt and are not factored in to your personal possessions when determining your net worth.
Assuming you are less than 65 years old, you will need to prove that you are disabled to qualify for SSI. If you are blind, this is relatively easy. If you have other disabilities, you will need to prove that you are disabled according to the SSA’s definition of long term disability. The standards used to determine whether you are disabled include:
- Complete inability to perform any kind of work which you have ever done in the past.
- Must be deemed incapable of being reasonably trained and accommodated to perform any work available in the area.
- Must have a disability which is likely to last more than a year or result in your death.
If you do qualify for SSI on the basis of your disability, you can expect to have a continuing disability review periodically. The SSA will determine, based upon medical reports from your doctor (and sometimes their own medical experts) whether your disability has improved to the point which would enable you to perform any substantial gainful work activity. If the SSA determines that you have adequately recovered from your disability, you will be disqualified for ongoing Social Security Disability benefits.
You may apply for SSI benefits online or over the phone, though most apply in person at their local Social Security office. You are allowed to have a lawyer or other Social Security Disability representative for all stages of the disability application and appeals process.
Approximately 70 percent of claims are denied when they are first processed. Don’t allow this to discourage you from seeking SSI benefits. If you are disabled according to the SSA’s definition and have sufficient financial need (again, as determined by the SSA) your claim may be accepted during the appeals process.
After your initial claim is denied, you can begin the multi-tiered appeals process. The steps are as follows:
- Request for Reconsideration - You may submit any new evidence you have to prove that you deserve SSI benefits. You should be prompt in submitting any new evidence, because by submitting a request for reconsideration, you are simply asking the SSA to reconsider the evidence presented.
- Disability Hearing - If your claim is denied at the reconsideration stage, you may request a hearing. Your hearing will take place in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and will be your only chance to speak face to face with the person in charge of making a decision on your disability claim. For many SSI and SSDI claimants, their day before an AJJ represents their best opportunity to have their claims actually looked at and approved.
- Appeals Council Review - The Appeals Council reviews decisions made by the ALJ. Mostly, they check to ensure that all of the facts have been considered and that the applicable laws have been followed. If they disagree with the ALJ’s decision or methods, they can overrule it or send it back to the ALJ for further consideration.
- Federal Court Review - If the Appeals Council reviews your claim and upholds the ALJ’s decision, the only way you can further pursue your claim is to take it into the Federal Court system by filing a lawsuit against the SSA. Claimants rarely pursue this course of action as their chances of winning at this stage are slim.
Hire a Social Security Disability Attorney
Many claimants find that working with a qualified Social Security Disability attorney is helpful throughout the process of applying for disability. A lawyer will be able to point you in the right direction regarding what kind of Social Security benefits you likely qualify for. Statistics have shown that your chances of being awarded benefits are higher when you qualified legal representation.