The initial application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) disability is identical for every state, because both SSDI and SSI are federal programs.
But for Pennsylvania applicants, a state agency in Pennsylvania handles the medical review of the initial disability application, after the local office of the Social Security Administration (SSA) checks the application to see if it meets the technical requirements.
In Pennsylvania, you can apply for disability benefits online or through your local Social Security field office. At the field office (or over the phone), a claims representative will review your application to make sure you've met all of the technical requirements for benefits (such as the work history requirements for SSDI or the income limits for SSI).
After your local SSA office reviews your initial application for basic eligibility, they forward it to the Bureau of Disability Determination (BDD), which is a state agency under the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The BDD is responsible for determining the medical eligibility of Pennsylvania residents who are applying for disability benefits.
Claims examiners at the BDD may contact your doctors, with your permission, if they need medical information regarding your impairments. They may also order you to undergo special examinations, at no cost to you, if necessary.
There are BDD offices in Harrisburg, Greensburg, and Wilkes-Barre. To contact the BDD, call their toll-free number 888-772-1409.
The approval rate for initial disability applications in Pennsylvania is 40%, slightly higher than the national average of 38%. Here is table comparing Pennsylvania's approval rates with the national average at all the stages, as well as the average wait time for a hearing.
|Stage of Application||
Initial Application Approval
Appeal Hearing Approval
Hearing Wait Time
There are four levels to the appeals process, but most people only go through the first two: "reconsideration" and the disability hearing.
If the claims examiner at Pennsylvania's BDD denies your claim, you can ask that a different claims examiner reconsider it. You do this by filing a reconsideration request (this is the first level of appeal). (Unfortunately, at the reconsideration stage, only 16% of initially denied claims are approved.)
If your claim is denied again, you can request a hearing by filing a request for a hearing with an administrative law judge. The BDD will then send your claim to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO), a branch of Social Security with offices across Pennsylvania (see list below), where a judge will decide your case at a disability hearing.
At your hearing, you'll have the chance to present the most important parts of your case through questions and answers asked by the ALJ or your disability lawyer. Additionally, you'll be able to bring a witness to testify about your impairments (though not many people do).
The success rate for hearings is higher than for initial applications. In Pennsylvania, the approval rate at hearings is a bit lower than the national average. After a hearing, 50% of disability claimants are approved in Pennsylvania. If you're represented by a disability lawyer, your chance of getting a fully favorable decision increases.
If the judge denies you disability benefits after the hearing, you can appeal to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council only hears cases that it determines to have been decided incorrectly.
Your final appeal option is filing a lawsuit in federal court if:
Pennsylvania has three federal district courts: Eastern District, Middle District, and Western District. Where to file your federal suit should be based on where you live. You'll need to hire a disability lawyer to file a lawsuit in federal court.
The average SSDI payment in Pennsylvania is $1,630 per month, but some people receive up to $3,630, depending on their income. (And widows and disabled adult children receive less.) Read more about how Social Security calculates your SSDI payment.
The State of Pennsylvania exempts 100% of Social Security benefits from a resident's tax liability. That means the state doesn't tax SSDI. For people with higher incomes, the federal government will tax a portion of their SSDI benefits.
For those who are receiving SSI in Pennsylvania, a majority of the monthly payment comes from the federal government. In 2023, the maximum federal payment an individual can receive is $914 per month, and couples receive up to $1,371 per month. (But the average federal SSI payment in Pennsylvania is only $596 because the amount of SSI people receive depends on whether they have other income or receive free room and board.)
In addition, the State of Pennsylvania provides additional monthly payments to its citizens who are living in certain circumstances. Most people only receive an extra $22 and $25 a month, though the average state supplemental payment in Pennsylvania is $370 (the average includes much higher supplements for people living in group homes).
Below are the total monthly maximum payments that SSI recipients can receive from the federal and state combined, depending on their living arrangements.
|Living Arrangements||Combined Monthly Payment|
|Living in the household of another|
|Domiciliary care facility for adults|
|Personal care boarding home|
Source: Medical Assistance Eligibility Handbook, 2023
Residents of domiciliary care homes (DOMCARE) and personal care boarding homes (PCBHs) will receive a single payment that includes both the federal SSI payment and the supplement from Pennsylvania.
SSI payments are not taxed by either the State of Pennsylvania or the IRS.
Many people who have become disabled are unable to return to the job they had before they became disabled. Fortunately, there are services available to help people to prepare for and get a new job. In Pennsylvania, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), managed by the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), provides such vocational training.
Below is the contact information for OVR's central office (contact information for their 15 local offices can be found on the OVR website).
1521 N. 6th Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
Below is the contact information for the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO), the office that handles all hearings. Their regional office is based in Philadelphia and there are eight local offices that are spread throughout the state. Here is their contact information:
Philadelphia Regional Office
300 Spring Garden Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Telephone: (215) 597-9980
Fax: (833) 613-0470
Elkins Park HO
8380 Old York Road, Suite 250
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania 19027
Services the following field offices: Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Fairless Hills, Limerick, Philadelphia (NE), and Reading
2 N. 2nd Street, 8th Floor
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
Services the following field offices: Carlisle, Chambersburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lewistown, and York
334 Washington Street, Suite 200
Johnstown, Pennsylvania 15901-9954
Services the following field offices: Altoona, DuBois, Indiana, Johnstown, State College
1601 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Services the following field offices: Norristown, Philadelphia (Downtown), Philadelphia (Aramingo), Philadelphia (South), Philadelphia (West), and West Chester
Philadelphia East HO
833 Chestnut Street, Suite 502
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
Services the following field offices: Chester, Philadelphia (Germantown), Philadelphia (Nicetown), and Upper Darby
1000 Liberty Avenue, Suite 2308
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Services the following field offices: Greensburg, McKeesport, Monroeville, Pittsburgh (Downtown), Pittsburgh (East), Pittsburgh (Mt. Lebanon), Pittsburgh (North), and Rostraver
Seven Fields HO
One Adams Place, Suite 200
300 Seven Fields Blvd.
Mars, PA 16046
Services the following field offices: Ambridge, Butler, Cranberry (formerly Oil City), Erie, Kittanning, Meadville, New Castle, New Kensington, and Sharon
Stegmaier Building, Suite 201
7 North Wilkes-Barre Boulevard
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 18702-5242
Services the following field offices: Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Hazleton, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Towanda, Wilkes-Barre, and Williamsport
Before your hearing, consider checking for address and phone number changes with Social Security's hearing office locator.
If you'd like to find out more about getting disability and what to expect during the application process, look over these articles:
Updated September 11, 2023
Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2021
Annual Statistical Supplement, 2022