Can Someone Claim Social Security Disability If They Have Never Worked?

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Question

I have severe back pain due to a herniated disk and stenosis. However, I've never worked, and I don't know I'm eligible for disability payments. I was a housewife / stay-at-home mom while my children were growing up, and I never had to work. I'm now divorced and my ex-husband just passed away, so I'm no longer getting alimony. Can I get disability benefits?

Answer

If you have never worked, you cannot claim Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). SSDI eligibility criteria require that you have worked long enough and recently enough to be insured for Social Security disability. Insured status for Social Security disability is based upon the wages that are reported by the IRS to an individual’s earnings record each year. An individual can earn up to four quarters of coverage per year, and if they have enough quarters of coverage (usually 20) and enough of those quarters occurred in the past ten years, they should be insured for Social Security disability insurance.

However, you may have other options. The Social Security Administration manages two disability programs, Social Security disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. While both programs have the same medical evaluation criteria and are sent to the same state disability agencies for disability determinations, each of these programs has their own distinct non-medical qualification criteria. Supplemental Security Income is based upon need, not insured status.

Individuals can claim disability through the SSI program if they are found to medically disabled whether or not they have ever worked -- if they meet the income and resource limits for the program. The Social Security Administration sets income and asset limits each year for this program, although the income and resource limit have not changed in several years. As it stands currently, an individual is allowed to have $2,000 in resources and a couple is allowed to have $3,000. (But the program excuses the home you live in and one vehicle with the highest value). If an individual has other resources such as land, other vehicles, stocks, a 401(k), or checking or savings accounts, they count toward the limit.

In addition, if your husband was eligible for Social Security benefits from having worked in jobs that pay into the system, you may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits, even though you divorced before your husband died. For more information, see our article on survivors benefits for divorced spouses

Updated by: , J.D.

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