When you can't work because of an injury or illness, having disability benefits can help pay your living expenses. If you're fortunate enough to live in one of the five states that offer state-sponsored short-term disability (SDI) benefits for workers, you're likely covered if your medical condition has caused you to miss more than a week of work.
Most state-sponsored disability plans pay benefits for 26-30 weeks. The exception is California (CA SDI), which provides up to 52 weeks of disability benefits.
If your disability is expected to last a year or more, you can also apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits—even if you're already getting SDI benefits.
Here's what you need to know about collecting both SDI and SSDI at the same time, including some important differences between the two types of disability programs and how getting both can affect your benefits.
The short answer is yes. In states like California that offer SDI (sometimes called temporary disability insurance, or TDI), many residents take advantage of the SDI program while they wait for Social Security to approve SSDI benefits. But if you do get approved for SSDI, you can expect your benefits to be reduced.
Both short-term disability and Social Security disability insurance pay benefits when you're unable to work because of a disabling medical condition or injury. But there are some key differences between the two, including:
Administration. SSDI is a federal program run by the Social Security Administration (SSA). SDI (or TDI) is a state-run disability insurance program.
Eligibility. For state disability insurance benefits, you must be an employee in the state, and you (or your employer) must have paid into the state-run SDI program. To be eligible for SSDI, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes recently and for a certain amount of time (based on your age).
Waiting period. Both SDI and SSDI have waiting periods. For SDI, that's usually only about a week, whereas SSDI has a five-month waiting period.
How long benefits last. SDI benefits are generally available for six months to a year (depending on where you live). SSDI benefits, on the other hand, can last several years—and sometimes the rest of your life or until you reach full retirement age.
Amount of disability benefits. SDI usually pays 60-70% of your pre-tax income, up to a maximum amount. For instance, California SDI pays up to $1,620 per week ($7,020 per month). With SSDI, the maximum benefit is $3,627 a month (for an individual), or about $837 per week (and very few people get the maximum benefit).
Although you can collect both Social Security disability and short-term disability benefits at the same time, you can't collect the full amount of both SSDI and SDI. The same is true for collecting SSDI at the same time as workers' comp and civil service disability benefits.
Social Security will reduce your SSDI benefit if the combined amount of your SSDI and SDI is more than 80% of your pre-disability earnings. For instance, if you were earning $5,000 per month before you became disabled, your combined SDI and SSDI benefits couldn't be more than $4,000 per month (because 80% of $5,000 is $4,000).
Social Security will reduce the amount of your SSDI benefit to account for state disability benefits. This reduction is called an "offset."
To calculate the offset, Social Security will add together the amount of your monthly SSDI benefit (including any dependents benefits your family might get) and the amount of 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.)
Note that Social Security always reduces SSDI benefits paid to family members before reducing the disabled worker's benefits. Learn more about how Social Security calculates family benefits.
If you're approved for SSDI benefits, Social Security will pay you the monthly benefits that you weren't paid while you were waiting for a decision. You could get SSDI back payments for up to a year before you apply. (To get a full year of back pay, you must have been disabled at least 17 months before you applied for SSDI, due to the five-month waiting period).
Before releasing your back payment, Social Security will calculate the offset for each month that you're owed back pay. 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 doesn't apply to your Social Security retirement benefits. So if you're over age 62 or approaching age 62, you could consider filing for early retirement benefits to avoid the SDI offset.
But keep in mind that retiring early will reduce the amount of your monthly 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 whether retiring early would benefit you, a representative at your local Social Security office should be able to help with the calculation.
Not all short-term disability insurance is state-sponsored. Private short-term disability (STD) insurance also pays you benefits if you can't work because of an injury or illness. Most STD policies typically pay about 60% of your wages for up to about six months (at which point a long-term disability insurance (LTD) policy might kick in). Your employer might provide this coverage, or you can purchase a private policy directly from an insurance company.
You can collect STD benefits from an insurance company while you're receiving SDI benefits from your state agency. But the insurance company will usually offset your STD benefits by the amount of your SDI benefits.
If you live in California, where the SDI benefits can last up to 52 weeks, you might also get long-term disability benefits while you're still receiving SDI benefits. And the same rules apply. The insurance company will likely offset the amount of your LTD benefit by the amount of SDI you're getting each month.
To apply for SDI benefits, you'll likely need to file a claim with the state office that handles SDI—usually the labor department or a special disability insurance office (like in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California). But in some states (New York and Hawaii) you must file a claim through your employer.
You must apply for SSDI benefits through the Social Security Administration. You can file a disability claim in any of the following ways:
If you've applied for SDI or SSDI benefits and you've been denied, or you're collecting both SSDI and short-term disability and you think Social Security is withholding too much from your monthly payment, you can appeal. And you might consider getting the help of a disability attorney. Learn more about hiring a disability lawyer and how having one can improve your chance of winning a disability appeal.
Updated February 8, 2023
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