Atlanta has seen above-average unemployment in 2020, peaking at 13.4% in April.
For Georgia residents who’re disabled and seeking Social Security benefits, losing an income of a household earner can add to the stress and anxiety of the process.
In addition to a large number of recent job losses across the nation, disabled people may become unemployed because their condition prevents them from working in the U.S. economy. This is precisely the type of hardship Social Security disability benefits are meant to help alleviate.
While there are state and federal initiatives to help disabled people seek employment when able, unemployment rates remain higher for disabled versus non-disabled people.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that:
- In 2019, 9.2% of people with disabilities were unemployed, versus 4.2 percent for those with no disabilities.
- Disabled Americans were more likely to hold part-time work.
- Eight in 10 people with disabilities are not employed, nor are they actively seeking employment.
If you’re unemployed and disabled, you’re not alone. But what steps should you take to win your Social Security benefits claim? Let Atlanta disability attorneys Affleck & Gordon be your guide in navigating this process.
Step 1: SSDI Versus SSI
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are separate programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Keeping these acronyms straight can be confusing at first glance. Here’s a breakdown of the programs.
SSDI is an earned benefit when you acquire work credits.
You get work credits, or “quarters,” when you earn employment or self-employment income. You can receive a total of four quarters each year.
According to the SSA, to qualify for SSDI: “Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled.”
SSI is a needs-based benefits program.
SSI is for those who are 65 years old or older, blind, or disabled, as well as blind or disabled children. It’s for those with little or no income to cover necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and medicine.
The monthly income limit for SSI in 2020 is $783 per individual or $1,175 per couple for non-blind individuals.
To qualify, you must meet these criteria:
- For both programs, non-blind persons must not exceed a certain amount of work earnings. This amount is known as Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA. Other forms of income or assets may also be considered to determine eligibility. Discuss your SGA requirements with your disability lawyer.
- Blind persons are not subject to the SGA rule when applying for SSDI benefits. They still must meet income requirements if applying for SSI, since it is a needs-based program.
- Be able to medically prove a physical or psychological disorder that causes a substantial, lasting impact on your ability to work.
- Be either a U.S. citizen or meet very narrow requirements based on your permanent residency, military service, or political asylum-seeker or refugee status.
Volunteering and Social Security Disability Benefits
If you are unemployed and disabled, you may still participate in certain volunteer activities. Whether the SSA will consider these “Substantial Gainful Activity” when determining your disability can be complicated.
If 1.) your volunteering is frequent, 2.) a comparable job would pay you above the SGA limit, or 3.) volunteering proves you are able to work at a position you’re qualified for—you may not qualify for benefits.
Discuss volunteering and other regular activities, and how your disability impacts those activities, with your attorney.
Step 2: Can Your Claim Be Expedited?
Expediting your claim may be an option if you’re unemployed and facing substantial financial hardship.
This is crucial when considering Social Security disability cases can sometimes take months or years. The SSA takes about three to five months on average to reach an initial decision. This varies based on how long it takes for them to gather medical and other evidence of your disability.
However, most claims are initially denied. This means you may also go through a lengthy process of reconsideration and appeals hearings.
Here are some instances where your claim can be expedited.
If you can prove you have a dire need that would deny you shelter, food, medical resources, or that an extended wait would cause you severe hardship, the SSA may expedite a portion of your claim.
You will have to submit a “dire need” letter to your local Office of Hearings Operations. This letter should contain information such as the detailed conditions of your hardship, reasons you cannot wait for a hearing, and documented proof such as impending foreclosures or evictions, past-due medical bills, utilities shut-off notices, etc.
Compassionate Allowances (CAL) and Presumptive Disabilities
Compassionate allowances are meant to expedite cases for over 200 qualifying conditions, such as certain types of cancer. Whether or not a condition qualifies for CAL is often based on the severity of the disease or condition. In some instances, you may receive benefits while your case is still being reviewed by the SSA.
Presumptive disabilities are all those which meet a strict SSA medical listing and can be medically proven with a high probability to meet all the requirements of qualifying. Those approved for a presumptive disability can receive up to six months of benefits prior to a decision about their claim.
Step 3: Consult a Disability Attorney
If you’re unemployed and disabled, retaining a lawyer’s services may seem financially out of reach. However, this is often not the case.
For many Social Security disability cases, there’s no up-front attorney’s fee. You’d only pay a fixed percentage of your initial back pay after you win your claim. If you don’t win, no fee will be due.
This makes an attorney accessible to you regardless of income or employment. It can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety of your disability case. It also means you can have an advocate in your corner when you apply for benefits, appeal an unfavorable decision, or otherwise need guidance about your case.
If your Supplemental Security Income claim or your Social Security Disability Insurance claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 990-3945.