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There are two federal benefit programs that may provide you and your family with financial assistance. Both the Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, program and the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program provide long-term monetary benefits to eligible individuals. Because both of these programs require lengthy, often complicated, applications it helps to understand the basics of each program before you get started applying.
It Helps to Understand the Basics of Each Program Before You Get Started Applying UNDERSTANDING FEDERAL DISABILITY PROGRAMS – SSDI AND SSI BASICS RICHARD B. SCHNEIDER OREGON ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY Although most of us prefer not to think about the possibility of becoming disabled the reality is that you could become disabled tomorrow. A catastrophic car accident, a life-threatening illness, or a tragic work accident could result in your long-term disability at any time. In the event that you do become disabled how will your family survive financially? Your unexpected inability to work may cause serious financial hardship for you and your family. The good news is that there are two federal benefit programs that may provide you and your family with financial assistance. Both the Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, program and the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program provide long-term monetary benefits to eligible individuals. Because both of these programs require lengthy, often complicated, applications it helps to understand the basics of each program before you get started applying. Both the SSI and the SSDI program are primarily funded by the Social Security Administration, or SSA. Some states provide supplemental funding to the SSI program; however, because both programs are funded and administered by the Social Security Administration, or SSA, applicants must meet the SSA definition of “disabled” to qualify for benefits. According to the SSA, you are disabled for purposes of SSI or SSDI benefits if: You cannot do work that you did before; Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 2 You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. As you can see, the SSA definition of “disabled” requires your disability to be both long-term and serious enough to prevent you from working. The SSI program is aimed at providing benefits to low-income disabled individuals. Federal benefit programs fall into one of two categories – means test or entitlement. An entitlement program does not require you to meet income and/or resource limit guidelines whereas a means test program does. The SSI program is a means test program. As such, you will not qualify if you have income that exceeds the income limit. On the other hand, the SSI program does not require you to have an earnings record to qualify for benefits as the SSDI program does. Because the SSI program is a means test program and does not base your benefits on your own prior earnings the benefits available from the SSI program are typically less than benefits from the SSDI program. Oregon no longer supplements the federal SSI benefits, meaning that the maximum benefit available to an SSI recipient in Oregon is $710 per month or $1066 Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 3 for a couple. Up to an additional $356 may be available for an “essential person”, defined by the SSA as “someone who was identified as essential to your welfare under a State program that preceded the SSI program.” The amount of your monthly SSI benefit will be affected by any income you receive that month. “Income” includes money from a wide variety of sources other than employment. For example, you can qualify for both SSDI and SSI but your SSI payment would be reduced by the amount you received from SSDI that month. Calculating your income for purposes of the SSI program can be complicated because there are a number of income sources that are excluded, such as: • the first $20 of most income received in a month; • the first $65 of earnings and one–half of earnings over $65 received in a month; • interest or dividends earned on countable resources or resources excluded under other Federal laws; Imagine, for example that you received SSDI benefits in the amount of $420 this month and earned another $50 in interest from an excluded resource. The first $20 of your SSDI benefit would be excluded as would the $50 in interest but the $400 left over from your SSDI benefit would count. As a result, the maximum SSI benefit you could receive would be $310 ($710 - $400). Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 4 Eligibility for the SSDI program is determined by your work history, or someone else’s work history in certain circumstances. Over the course of your lifetime you contribute to the Social Security program. To qualify for SSDI benefits you must have worked long enough and recently enough. If you qualify, other members of your family may also qualify based on your earnings record, such as: Your spouse, if he or she is age 62 or older Your spouse, at any age if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled Your unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be younger than age 18 or younger than 19 if in elementary or secondary school full time Your unmarried child, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. (The child’s disability also must meet the definition of disability for adults.) A divorced spouse if you were married for at least 10 years, he or she is unmarried, and is at least 62 years old Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 5 The amount of your monthly benefits from the SSDI program will depend, to a large extent, on the number of “work credits” you have earned over your lifetime as well as how much you contributed to Social Security. In addition, the SSA sets a maximum benefit level each year which, for 2013, is $2,533. The amount that an eligible family member receives can be up to 50 percent of your benefit amount; however, the family maximum benefit amount is somewhere between 150-180 percent of your monthly benefit amount. As is the case with many federal benefit programs the application process can be lengthy and confusing. Moreover, many applicants fail to submit enough documentation on which a determination that the applicant is disabled can be made. According to the SSA’s own statistics, only 36 percent of all Oregon applicants for either the SSDI or the SSI program were initially approved in 2011. If you claim is originally denied you must request a reconsideration before asking for a hearing. Of all reconsideration requests filed in Oregon, only 11 percent were approved in 2011. You may apply for SSDI benefits online through the SSA website, via telephone by calling 1- 800-772-1213, or in person at a local Social Security office. Application for Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 6 SSI benefits can be done by completing the disability report online and then scheduling an appointment to complete the remaining application process at your local SSA office or you may do both at the same time by scheduling an appointment at your local SSA office. Because of the high rate of denials, you may wish to consult with an estate planning prior to applying. Social Security, Benefits for People with Disabilities Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits NOLO, Filing for Disability in Oregon Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 7 About the Author Richard B Schneider Before devoting his professional efforts primarily to estate planning, Mr. Schneider spent over fifteen years working on Wall Street for major law firms and investment banks. After graduating from law school, he practiced general civil law in New York City for five years, specializing in business transactions, financings and corporate matters. He also represented major investment banking firms in mortgage trading and real estate-related matters. Among his clients were international shipping companies, commercial and investment banks and institutional lenders, including General Electric Capital Corporation, Salomon Brothers and Merrill Lynch. For the next ten years Mr. Schneider served as Senior Vice President at the investment banking firm of Kidder, Peabody, where he managed outside legal counsel for a variety of large financial transactions between major institutions. He played a central role in the creation of Kidder, Peabody’s mortgage trading subsidiary and advised and executed transactions with insurance companies, pension funds and government agencies, including the Resolution Trust Company. In 1996 Mr. Schneider established a residence in Portland, Oregon and began his law practice there in 1997. He has made a long-term commitment to providing first-class estate planning legal services to families and individuals within the Portland metropolitan area and the surrounding SW Washington region. His motivations for moving to the Northwest were several: the natural scenic beauty of the Northwest landscape, the clean air and streets, the healthy, diversified economy and the overall high quality of life. Mr. Schneider is very grateful for the warm reception he has received from Portland/Vancouver and is pleased to have become a respected member of the Portland/Vancouver legal and business community. Mr. Schneider is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Estate Planning Council of Portland and is on the board of directors of the the Rental Housing Association of Greater Portland. He is admitted to practice in Oregon, Washington and New York. Law Offices of Richard B Schneider, LLC www.rbsllc.com 2455 NW Marshall St, Suite 11 Portland, OR 97210 Phone: (503) 241-1215 Understanding Federal Disability Programs – SSDI and SSI Basics 8
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