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Do You Have Questions About SSDI And SSI?

At some point in the Social Security Disability application or appeals process, you will have one or more questions. To assist you, The Disability Law Office of Jeffrey S. Lichtman, LLC, has compiled a list of our clients’ frequently asked questions.

Q. What types of benefits are available through Social Security and who is eligible to receive them?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers two types of disability benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are for people who have worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system over several years. To receive SSDI benefits, you must have been out of work for at least one year or expect to remain out of work for at least one full year due to illness or injury.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not based on taxes paid into the Social Security system. Rather, a person must meet certain financial and U.S. residency requirements in addition to being unable to work. Additionally, children with very severe health problems may receive SSI benefits depending upon their parents’ financial situations.

Some claimants may receive both types of benefits.

Q. What amount can I receive from SSDI or SSI benefits?

For SSDI benefits, the cash benefit depends on the amount of money earned and taxes paid over the years. Monthly benefits can be as low as a few hundred dollars or as high as a few thousand dollars. The Social Security Statement sets forth an estimation of your benefit amounts under the early retirement, full retirement, survivors’ and disability programs.

For SSI benefits, the amount of monthly income is subject to a maximum benefit amount that is increased by an annual cost of living adjustment. In 2020, the maximum benefit amount for an individual is $783; for a couple, $1,175.

Q. Do my assets or my income affect my monthly benefit?

Overall wealth does not affect SSDI benefits. You could win the lottery and still receive your monthly SSDI check. However, receipt of workers’ compensation benefits and certain governmental pensions can reduce your monthly SSDI benefits. The income and assets of a spouse do not impact your SSDI benefit amount.

SSI eligibility is more complicated. All income of an individual or a couple is factored into SSI benefit eligibility and can reduce or eliminate eligibility for benefits. Subject to certain exceptions (such as one home, one car and prepaid burial expenses), an individual cannot have assets — referred to as “resources” — worth $2,000 or more and still be eligible to collect monthly SSI benefits. The resource limit for a couple is $3,000. The resources of a spouse can impact the eligibility for benefits.

Q. Are my children entitled to Social Security benefits if I become disabled?

Until age 18 (or up to 19 if still in high school), the children of a disabled person receiving SSDI benefits can receive a monthly benefit amount based upon the disabled parent’s earnings. However, if the disabled person’s monthly SSDI benefit amount is very low, the children may not be entitled to any benefits.

Children of a disabled person who receives SSI cannot receive any benefits based upon the parent’s disability.

Q. What type of health insurance might I receive through SSDI or SSI?

Recipients of SSDI benefits become entitled to Medicare. Recipients of SSI benefits can usually receive Medicaid health insurance.

Q. Can I still work if I receive SSDI or SSI benefits?

Generally, someone who is working full time is not considered disabled. However, SSA has rules that allow someone to receive disability benefits while performing limited work. These rules are complicated, but if you are earning $1,260 per month or more from work in 2020 (for people who are blind, the limit is $2,160), you are not likely eligible for disability benefits. You should think very carefully before trying to work while receiving benefits.

Q. Do I need an attorney to apply for SSDI or SSI benefits?

It is a wise decision to hire an attorney to assist with a disability claim. As an experienced disability lawyer, I assist clients at all levels of the disability adjudication process, becoming involved in cases at the very beginning by filing the application and undertaking representation immediately before hearings.

Q. How much does an attorney charge?

Most Social Security Disability cases are handled on a contingent-fee basis, meaning the lawyer does not charge any fees unless they obtain benefits for you. The standard fee is either 25 percent of the past-due benefits or $6,000 — whichever amount is less. Once the case concludes, the client receives 100 percent of the ongoing monthly benefits. The attorney has no claim to monies beyond the “past-due benefits.”

For example, if the amount of your benefits is $20,000, the fee will be $5,000. If the past-due benefits amount to $24,000, the fee will be $6,000. If an appeal proceeds to the federal court, the attorney may file a petition for an amount that is greater than $6,000, but not greater than 25 percent of the past-due benefits. If the case is unlikely to yield past-due benefits, an hourly fee needs to be charged.

Q. If I work after I qualify for disability, must I report that to the Social Security Administration?

You must report all work performed for pay to the Social Security Administration! Failure to do so could jeopardize your entitlement to benefits and could result in an overpayment of benefits to you.

Q. What is the maximum amount of money I can earn per month and still secure benefits?

“Substantial gainful activity” is the amount that Social Security has set as the cut-off amount for disability. In 2020, substantial gainful activity level earnings are $1,260 per month ($2,160 per month if you are blind). If you earn more than $1,259.99 per month, you are not disabled under Social Security’s rules no matter how bad your health problems are unless you can show “Impairment-Related Work Expenses” (IRWEs) that bring your income below substantial gainful activity levels. This is a steadfast rule, though the amount that constitutes substantial gainful activity is subject to increases every year.

Q. How much money can I make without jeopardizing my benefits?

While Social Security does allow you to have some earnings while receiving benefits, this can jeopardize your benefits. A trial work month in 2020 is any month in which you earn more than $910. While you can make more than $910 per month and still receive benefits during a trial work period, earnings over $910 raise a red flag for review of your disability and benefits.

Q. How much can I earn if I do not want to get into a trial work period?

If your pay is not greater than $181.99 per week, you should have no trial work months in a year (5 weeks x $182= $910) and be able to earn approximately $10,000 in a year.

Q. Can I earn more than $181 per week without jeopardizing my benefits?

Any month in which you are earning greater than $910 does constitute a trial work month in 2020. Your case could come up for review based on your earnings. While you will be making less than the substantial gainful activity limit of $1,260 per month, Social Security could undertake a continuing disability review and determine that your disability has ceased medically, thereby terminating your entitlement to benefits.

Still Have Questions? Contact Us.

If you still need answers to your questions about Social Security Disability, The Disability Law Office of Jeffrey S. Lichtman, LLC, can help. Get a free consultation with our attorneys in Philadelphia. The law firm also serves New Jersey, Delaware and Southwest Florida. Call 215-268-7274 or send an email.