The American Community Survey (ACS) reports that approximately 12.8 percent of the American population suffers from some sort of disability. Focusing on Florida, that number jumps to 13.7 percent (although the Sunshine State hardly tops the list; that would be West Virginia, at nearly 20 percent). But when it comes to applying for disability, it’s important to understand that individual states do not create qualifying criteria; that job is left to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
States then work with the SSA to determine whether or not claimants meet the criteria for both Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
What is the qualifying criteria for SSA benefits?
To be considered for disability benefits, the SSA states that you must:
- Have worked in jobs covered by Social Security
- Have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability
How does the SSA define “disability”?
Disability is generally based on the following three key factors:
- You’re unable able to do the work you once performed
- You’re unable to reasonably adjust to a different line of work
- Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or may result in death (for short-term disabilities, the SSA assumes working families have access to other financial relief resources, such as insurance, personal savings and investments, or workers' compensation)
How long will my disability benefits last?
The SSA pays monthly cash benefits to individuals unable to work for a year or more due to disability; benefits will continue until the individual is able to return to work again on a regular basis.
If you’re receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach your full retirement age, your disability benefits will automatically be converted into retirement benefits, but the amount you receive will remain unchanged.
What are SSA work incentives?
Because the transition back to work can be difficult, the SSA offers “work incentives.” These special programs are designed to help individuals ease back into employment while continuing to receive monthly payments and Medicare or Medicaid.
- Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). If you’re saving money for future occupational training, a return to school, or even to start your own business once you’re able, the SSA will not count funds put toward these goals in determining your monthly benefit amount.
- Trial work period. You may be able to receive your SSDI benefits in full for nine months to ensure you’re able to transition back to work (and to avoid having to re-apply for benefits should you determine you’re not ready yet).
- Ticket to Work. This program helps individuals get back to work through free employment services and other employment networks based upon your desired vocation.
For a full breakdown of all nine work incentive programs, you can read more here.
How does my work history factor in?
Social Security work credits, or quarter of coverage (QC), is based on your total personal yearly wages or self-employment income; the maximum you can earn is four QC per year. The amount is based on the national average wage index, so it varies from year to year; in 2018, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,320 of wages earned or self-employment income. Once you’ve earned $5,280, you've earned your four credits for the year.
How many work credits do I need to qualify?
Qualifying credits are based on our age and the date in which you became disabled; generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which must have been earned within the last 10 years, ending with the year you became disabled. However, in some cases younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.
What if my case is delayed or rejected?
Delays in case decisions, rejections, and appeals rejections have become more commonplace in recent years for a variety of reasons:
- The budget has remained nearly unchanged since 2010
- The number of individuals receiving retirement and disability has grown by 7 million
- New regulations require additional medical evidence, lengthening files judges must consider
- Judges have fewer supporting staff members, so they’re taking on an average of 10 cases per week versus the previous 12 cases
- Heightened scrutiny after a 2011 scandal involving bribery
Is help out there?
Navigating through your case, the criteria, and credits can get complex, and with the heightened scrutiny being put on cases today, it’s a good idea to consult with an accredited, experienced Social Security advocate who can help determine if you qualify for disability in Florida.
At Disability Experts of Florida, we have decades of combined experience we can put to work for you. It’s natural to have questions about whether or not you qualify for disability, when you can expect to get an answer regarding your case, or how to appeal a decision. Contact us to find out if you qualify for disability here in Florida. We’re just a phone call or email away.