My question has to do with CA SDI and SSDI benefits. If I do eventually receive an award from SSDI along with a back payment, will I be entitled to keep benefits for months in which I received payments from both programs? Or would I have to return a portion of the SSDI back payment? I believe I read somewhere that one can collect CA SDI and SSDI benefits for the same months. I would very much appreciate any input you may have.
You're fortunate to live in California, one of only five states to offer short-term disability benefits. (Other states' short-term disability benefits are called temporary disability insurance, or TDI, rather than state disability insurance, or SDI.) Many California residents take advantage of the SDI program while they wait for an approval from the Social Security Administration for disability benefits.
You are right to suspect that you probably can't collect the full amount of both Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits and short-term disability (SDI) benefits. Social Security will reduce your SSDI if the combined amount of your SSDI and SSI is above a certain limit. That limit is 80% of your pre-disability earnings.
The reduction that Social Security takes from your disability benefits to account for state disability benefits is called an “offset.” To calculate the offset, Social Security will add your monthly Social Security disability benefits, including any dependents benefits payable to your family members, together with your SDI payment. If the total amount of both benefits is more than 80% of your average earnings before you became disabled, Social Security will deduct the excess amount from your SSDI benefit. (To figure your average pre-disability earnings, Social Security generally uses the average monthly wages from your highest-paid calendar year during the previous five years.)
If you're approved for SSDI benefits, Social Security will pay you the monthly Social Security disability payments that you weren't paid while you were waiting for a decision. Back payments can go back to a year before you apply (if you were disabled at least 17 months before you applied, due to a five-month waiting period). Before releasing your lump-sum of back payments, Social Security will calculate the offset for each month that you are owed backpay. Any month where the amount of SSDI and SDI your family would have received is above 80% of your pre-disability salary or wages, Social Security will determine the offset and subtract each month's excess from your lump-sum back payment.
The short-term disability offset does not apply to those receiving Social Security retirement benefits. So if you are over age 62 or approaching age 62, you may want to consider filing for early retirement benefits to avoid the SDI offset. However, since retiring early will lower your Social Security retirement payment (see Nolo's article on applying for Social Security disability after age 60), you'd have to do the numbers both ways to see whether this would benefit you. If you're not sure, ask a disability attorney or contact your local Social Security office for help with the calculation.