Many people are aware that the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a monthly disability payment to people who can't work. But monthly payments alone aren't always enough to cover expenses like food, housing, and medical treatment. If the SSA has determined that you're disabled, become familiar with some little known benefits that can help you pay your bills, visit the doctor, fill your prescriptions, and provide for your family.
The SSA awards benefits to people whose medical conditions have prevented them from working any job full-time for at least a year. The agency offers two kinds of disability benefits:
When you apply for SSA benefits, the agency will determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements for SSDI, SSI, or both. SSDI is an insurance program paid for by your payroll taxes, so whether you qualify depends on your work history. SSI is a needs-based program, so qualification is based on how many resources you have.
For 2022, the average monthly benefit paid from SSDI is $1,358, but it can be as much as $3,345 if your income was fairly high. (You can use the SSA's online benefit calculator here.) SSI monthly benefits for 2022 are $841. If you qualify for both programs, you'll receive the sum of your SSDI and SSI amount every month, but only if your SSDI payment is low.
Both SSDI and SSI provide you with back due benefits—lump sum payments that cover your monthly benefits retroactive to the date you filed your application (or sometimes even earlier). Most people who are awarded benefits don't get approved until after they have a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). Because this can take several years, back due benefits can get quite substantial.
One of the most important benefits people with disabilities are entitled to receive is health insurance. If you've been approved for SSDI, you'll also be enrolled in Medicare, although (with two exceptions) coverage doesn't begin until two years after you began receiving SSDI. The SSA will take out a portion of your monthly payment to pay for your Medicare premiums. Some states offer Medicare Savings Programs that can help offset the cost of the premiums.
If you've been approved for SSI, you'll qualify for Medicaid, an insurance program for low-income people with disabilities. Most states automatically enroll people approved for SSI into Medicaid, but not all. For more information, read our article on which states grant Medicaid automatically here.
Dependents' benefits —also known as auxiliary benefits—are available to your spouse, ex-spouse, children, and sometimes grandchildren if you receive SSDI. (The SSI program does not grant auxiliary benefits.)
Benefits for your spouse. Social Security will pay benefits to your spouse in either of the following instances:
Benefits for your ex-spouse. If you're divorced, your ex-spouse can receive benefits based on your record, even if you've remarried, when all of the following apply:
Benefits for your children. Biological, adopted, or stepchildren can qualify for SSDI benefits in any of the following circumstances:
Benefits for your grandchildren. Grandchildren can draw SSDI benefits in some limited situations if all of the following requirements are met:
Dependents' benefits aren't unlimited. Each family member can receive up to 50% of your SSDI amount. The total amount will vary, depending on how much your SSDI monthly amount is and how many qualifying family members you have. Generally, the most you and your family can receive is 150-180% of your SSDI benefit.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Commonly referred to as EBT (electronic benefits transfer) or food stamps, SNAP helps people buy food by providing a grocery credit. If you qualify for SSI, it's likely that you'll also qualify for SNAP. You won't usually be automatically enrolled in SNAP if you're getting SSI, but you can get a SNAP application—and information about other nutrition assistance programs—at any Social Security office.
Federal tax breaks. Both SSDI and SSI recipients can take advantage of tax deductions and credits. For example, none of the money you receive from SSI counts as taxable income. SSDI money can be taxed, but you can leave out half of your SSDI when figuring out your income. You still might have to pay taxes on any other income you or your spouse are earning, but your taxes should be lower. (To see if your state taxes your disability benefits, see our article here.)
Disability freeze. Social Security retirement benefits are calculated based on your work history and income, so any time spent not working can lower the amount of your retirement benefits. Once you start receiving SSDI, however, Social Security won't count the time you're disabled when calculating how much you'll get at retirement. (SSI recipients don't get a disability freeze.)
Ticket to Work program. A voluntary program, Ticket to Work provides SSDI and SSI recipients with a way to return to employment without worrying about losing their disability benefits. The program offers services like vocational training, career counseling, and job placement assistance.
If you find yourself suddenly facing a situation where an injury or illness has left you unable to work, and are thinking about filing for Social Security Disability benefits, you may want to consider hiring a disability attorney who can help protect your rights through the process.
Depending on the circumstances of your disabling condition, you might also want assistance from an attorney who can help you file a workers' compensation claim, represent you in a personal injury lawsuit, or obtain a disability rating from the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department.
Updated June 29, 2022