I hurt my back badly and I can't do my job anymore. Unfortunately, the injury was on the weekend, and not at work, so I can't get any compensation or time off work for it. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm afraid I won't be able to feed my family. What happens if I can't pay my mortgage?
I don't want to have to go on welfare or food stamps or SSI. I want to provide for myself. And don't I have to become destitute and lose my house before I go on SSI?
I'm sorry to hear about your injury. Your anxiety is natural—most people's initial reaction to a disabling injury is the fear that they'll never be able to work again and won't be able to provide for their family. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides insurance against this type of situation.
Many people think Social Security just provides retirement benefits, but if you're injured and unable to work long-term, you can start getting your Social Security benefits early. You can actually collect the same amount as you would at full retirement age.
This part of Social Security is called Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), and everyone who's paid FICA taxes (or self-employment taxes) for a number of years has it. It's amazing how many people pay for this insurance but don't know about it; they mistakenly think their only option is SSI, which is only for those with very low incomes. (Though to answer your question, SSI recipients can keep their house and car and still receive benefits).
You shouldn't be uncomfortable applying for Social Security disability insurance, because it's an insurance program you pay for in case something like this happens.
The maximum SSDI benefit this year (2024) is $3,822 (at full retirement age), which is not too shabby, but to earn this amount, you must have worked a number of years earning a fairly good salary. Most people receive much less from SSDI; the average in 2024 is $1,537 per month.
Your family might be able to get SSDI benefits if you're found disabled, which can help. Your minor child can receive 50% of your benefit amount, and a spouse who's caring for your child or is of retirement age can receive 50% of your benefit amount (but if more than one dependent receives benefits, there's a family maximum benefit that will limit the amount of cash your family can receive).
The downside of the SSDI program is that, unless your injury is very severe and clear cut (easy to prove with objective medical tests), it can take a long time to get a decision from Social Security.
While you wait for a decision, you might be able to get a loan modification or forbearance on your mortgage or get other forms of temporary assistance. And if you eventually get approved, you'll be paid back benefits to the date you became unable to work, which will add up to a significant lump sum.
If your injury is expected to heal within a year, you won't qualify for Social Security disability benefits. But short-term disability benefits might be available through your employer or state government, depending on where you live.
Be forewarned, it's not easy to qualify for SSDI. You must meet Social Security's strict definition of disability. To qualify as disabled, Social Security must find that there's no full-time job you can do (even a sit-down job) for at least a year.
To find out if your injury might qualify for disability benefits, you might want to read our article on getting disability for back problems.
Updated January 16, 2024