Social Security Disability Insurance
Written by: Bruce L. Weider | 10.12.2023

Understanding The Basics Of SSI Disability Benefits

SSI disability benefits (SSDI) are available to provide financial support for those who are unable to work due to disabilities. The process of applying for benefits can be confusing and may seem intimidating at first. However, understanding how the system works can make this process simpler. In addition, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer can guide you through the process, using their legal expertise to help you secure the benefits you deserve. If you have questions about SSI disability benefits, you can learn more by contacting experienced Michigan Social Security disability lawyer Bruce L. Weider, PC, at (734) 485-0535.

What Are the Stages of SSI Disability Evaluations?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that pays out cash benefits each month to people who have a work history, have paid Social Security taxes, and suffer from disabilities that prevent them from engaging in “substantial gainful activity”–in other words, working. To receive SSDI benefits, a worker needs to have worked long enough to qualify for SSDI coverage. In addition, the disability that curtails their ability to earn a living must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) standards.

The Social Security Administration evaluates disability claims using the following five-step process to determine if the disability meets their criteria:

  1. Substantial Gainful Activity - First, the SSA determines whether the claimant is working at a level of “substantial gainful activity.” If the claimant is still working and their pre-tax monthly earnings are higher than the substantial gainful activity level, the claimant does not qualify for SSDI benefits. As of 2023, the SGA level is $1,470 per month.
  2. Severity of Medical Condition - To qualify, the medical condition must be severe enough to limit the claimant’s ability to work for at least 12 straight months or be expected to result in death.
  3. List of Impairments - The condition must be listed in the official SSA List of Impairments, which includes a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. If the condition is not on the list, the SSA will evaluate whether the condition is severe enough to qualify for SSDI benefits.
  4. Ability to Return to Work - The SSA evaluates whether the claimant can do the same type of work they did before they were disabled. If the condition does not prevent them from returning to work, they do not qualify for benefits.
  5. Ability to do Any Type of Work - If the applicant is unable to do their previous work, the SSA evaluates their skills and determines if there is any other type of work they could do with their disability. If the disability does not prevent the claimant from working and earning at the SGA level, they do not qualify for benefits.

What Is the One-Third Rule for SSI Disability Benefits?

The Social Security Administration SSI one-third rule applies to people who live in the household of another person and do not pay to live there or for the food they eat. If John is receiving SSI benefits and moves in with his daughter and grandchild, he receives both food and shelter for free, without paying for any household expenses. In this instance, the SSI would reduce John’s monthly SSI payments by one-third. If John had been receiving $3,000 in benefits each month prior to moving in with his daughter and grandchild, this amount would be reduced to $2,000.

This rule does not apply if the SSI recipient lives in another person’s household and pays for rent and their share of food. If there are a total of four people living in John’s daughter’s home, and John contributes one-quarter of the household’s monthly expenses, the SSI would not reduce his benefits by one-third. Individuals who are unsure whether the one-third rule applies to them, or who have other questions about SSI disability benefits, can learn more by speaking with experienced Michigan Social Security Disability lawyer Bruce L. Weider, PC.

What Is the 5-Year Rule for Social Security Disability?

Under the Social Security disability five-year rule, the SSA allows people with disabilities to forgo a required waiting period before receiving disability benefits, provided that they previously received disability benefits, stopped receiving them, and then became unable to work due to a disability within five years. This rule simplifies the reapplication process for individuals who have periodically worked but have a disability that has prevented them from working on more than one occasion within five years.

If Jane suffers from chronic back pain that becomes severe enough to prevent her from working, she may apply for and receive SSDI benefits. If her condition then improves and she can return to work, she will stop collecting benefits. On the other hand, if her condition eventually worsens and forces her to stop working again less than five years after originally applying for benefits, then in this situation, Jane could bypass the usual waiting period, reapply for SSDI, and begin receiving benefits again.

How Are SSI Disability Benefits Calculated?

The SSA looks at a person’s countable income to determine how much they will receive in benefits. This countable income includes any cash or other items that can be used to provide food and shelter, either directly or through conversion or sale. The SSA recognizes four main types of income for SSI calculation:

  • Earned Income: This category includes wages, net earnings derived through self-employment, certain types of royalties, sheltered workshop payments, and honoraria.
  • Unearned Income: This includes all income not earned from work, such as pensions, state disability benefits, Social Security benefits, interest income, unemployment benefits, cash from friends and family members, and dividends.
  • In-Kind Income: This includes food, shelter, or both if the applicant receives them for free or for less than their fair market value.
  • Deemed Income: The portion of income from people the applicant lives with, such as a spouse, parents, or a sponsor for noncitizens.

According to the SSA, the more countable income an applicant has, the lower their SSI benefit will typically be. If countable income is over the allowable limit, the applicant may not receive benefits at all. The SSA subtracts any income that they do not count from the applicant’s gross income, and the remaining amount is considered countable income. This figure is then subtracted from the SSI Federal benefit rate and this figure is the final SSI federal benefit.

Learn More From a Michigan SSI Disability Lawyer

If you are unable to work due to a debilitating disability, you may qualify for SSI disability benefits. However, navigating the SSI system can be complicated, and many disabled individuals struggle to secure the benefits they need. Seasoned Michigan Social Security disability lawyer Bruce L. Weider, PC helps individuals disabled due to a variety of medical conditions navigate this complex system to receive the benefits they need and deserve while unable to work. Call our office today at (734) 485-0535 to learn more about applying for SSI disability benefits.

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