Contrary to the press stories about people turning to the disability program when their unemployment benefits run out, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is quite difficult to obtain. The eligibility requirements are strict and although the number of disability applications might rise when there is a recession, that does not mean that a proportionately high percentage of them are accepted. In fact, more of them are likely to be denied in a weaker economy.
The Rigorous Criteria:
- 1. Applicants must be fully insured (worked for one-fourth of their adult lives) and disability insured (worked in at least five of the last ten years).
- 2. Applicants must suffer from a severe physical or mental impairment that is expected to last 12 months or result in death and also provide determinable evidence from a treating physician or other acceptable medical source.
- 3. Applicants must prove that they are not able to perform any substantial work in the national economy that would provide at least $1,010 per month ($1690 for the blind).
- 4. The impairment must have lasted for at least 5 months before the applicant can qualify for SSDI. While few people are willing to wait this long without income in a strong economy, more people are likely to do so when they are unemployed.
Claimants must apply to the Social Security Administration (SSA) where applications lacking insured status are disqualified; the remaining applications are sent to the state’s disability determination service (DDS) for medical evaluations. If denied at the DDS stage, applicants can appeal with more than one-third winning their benefits on appeal.
A second level of appeal, the Administrative Law Judge Hearing, sees higher rates of benefits being awarded, but usually, at this stage (with processing times at about a year), most claimants’ conditions have significantly deteriorated and they also have better documentation for their cases. If they do receive their disability benefits, they are subject to continuing disability reviews (CDRs) at least once every three years (unless the disability is permanent), but Congressional cuts have prevented SSA from being able to conduct all of these scheduled reviews which may be another reason why more people are staying on the disability rolls.
For more information about the current status of the disability programs, click here.