As SSI attorneys, we understand the challenges disabled claimants face when seeking Supplemental Security Income benefits.
Applying is only the first step of a sometimes long and frustrating process. Some of the main factors considered for whether you qualify include:
- your age
- information regarding employment
- level of disability
You can spend months waiting to be approved, only to find out the Social Security Administration (SSA) has decided to deny your benefits.
Whatever the rationale, you now must go through an appeals process that will take additional time, gathering of evidence, and attending hearings, and each step can result in another potential “no.”
How, then, do you maximize your chances of avoiding a negative outcome for your case? What do you need to know about SSI before you apply?
Affleck & Gordon are experienced disability lawyers, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, who have worked with SSI clients for nearly four decades.
Let us guide you through the basics of applying for SSI benefits.
Why SSI Instead of SSDI? What’s the Difference?
When researching the SSA’s benefits programs for your disability, you likely came across the acronym SSDI, which stands for Social Security Disability Insurance.
If you find these terms confusing, a simple difference is that you pay into SSDI by working. This means you acquire work credits over time and pay into Social Security taxes, which are matched by your employer. This is an earned benefit.
SSI is a means-tested government program that pays monthly benefits to disabled adults and children or elderly people whose incomes and assets are limited or non-existent.
While the SSA determines the severity of your disability the same way for both programs, SSI is meant to help low-income or no-income individuals afford basic means such as food, shelter, medicines, and clothing.
What Exactly Is SSI?
SSI is a needs-based benefits program for those who are 65 or older or are blind or disabled at any age, and who have limited income and resources.
Note: Those who qualify for SSI typically also qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as Medicaid.
In 2020, the maximum monthly SSI amount you can receive is $783 per individual or $1,175 per couple.
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
SGA is a limit to how much you can earn in gainful employment. Exceeding this limit can disqualify you from receiving SSI benefits.
For those seeking SSI in 2020, the SGA limits are:
- $1,260 per month for non-blind persons
- no SGA limit for blind persons
Other considerations can include certain types of volunteer work that, if done in a work setting, would provide an income greater than the SGA limit. This involves your work accommodations, and your out of pocket costs allowing you to work as a disabled person.
Discuss in detail all employment and regular activities with the SSA or your disability attorney, and how your condition(s) impact these activities.
Applying for SSI
The first step is to apply for SSI securely online. The Social Security Administration website, SSA.gov, also offers a comprehensive resource for understanding how to qualify for SSI and what steps to take along the way as your case proceeds.
After you apply, an SSA representative will contact you via mail or telephone if additional information is needed.
You can also apply by visiting your local Social Security field office (when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and they reopen), or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778.
Note: Be wary of Social Security scams. The SSA will never call you out of the blue. Likewise, you should only use the SSA’s official website to apply for benefits and manage your case.
Does your Disability Qualify?
A severe disability that qualifies for SSI can be any physical or psychological disorder which causes more than a minimal impact on your ability to work.
Records of doctors’ visits, testing and imaging, and written opinions by your primary doctor and other physicians treating your condition can all contribute to this burden of proof.
There are two ways main ways for your condition to qualify:
- You meet a medical listing. Exact criteria must be met, depending on the type of disability. If you meet all the criteria for a given condition, you will win your benefits.
- You meet the criteria of disability outside of the SSA’s listings. You must prove that your condition prevents you from doing the physical or mental activities (Residual Functional Capacities, or RFC) required of your past employment—up to 15 years ago. In most cases, you must also prove you can’t perform any employment you’re qualified for in the U.S. economy, as determined by a vocational expert.
Appealing an SSI Benefits Denial
When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA may deny your initial claim. You then need to begin an appeals process.
Appeals can go through multiple stages, including:
- reconsideration by the SSA
- a hearing with an administrative law judge
- consideration by the Appeals Council
- a hearing in federal court.
When to Consult an SSI Attorney
The right SSI attorney can advocate for you throughout your case and will be current on disability law, SSA regulations, and the expectations of those determining your case at each level.
They can also guide you through any necessary appeals. At the hearing level, attorneys can make legal opening remarks, question you as the claimant, respond to inquiries from the judge, and also cross-examine the vocational expert in your hearing. They will also help you prepare for these hearings and gather the necessary medical documents.
In almost all cases, Social Security claimants won’t pay an up-front attorney’s fee. Instead, their attorney will only be paid a percentage of their initial back pay of benefits, according to a national federal standard, if they win their claim.
If your Supplemental Security Income claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 45 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 990-3945.