Social Security

Protecting Americans

Early in the 19th century, rapid industrialization began to push most workers out of farming and into wage-earning. To find the best jobs, Americans increasingly moved to cities, far away from the safety networks provided by their families. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness devastated those workers and their families.

Talk of increased charity and volunteerism was replaced by a more solid system after President Roosevelt was elected in 1932. He proposed a system not of welfare, but of social insurance. Instead of allowing the elderly to fend for themselves, they could draw on a system of savings they had paid into during their working years. The Social Security Act was signed into law on September 14, 1935, and it has provided a reliable safety net for Americans ever since.

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Social Security Disability Insurance

Benefits You've Earned

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to individuals who cannot work because of severe medical conditions. These benefits continue until individuals are able to work again. The payments are reclassified as retirement benefits if these individuals reach the age of 66 years and 2 months if they were born before 1955, and 67, if they were born after 1960.

Your Work History

Any work income that you’ve paid Social Security taxes on, either through payroll deductions or self-employment, is used to determine your Social Security Administration (SSA) “work credits.” In this system, the SSA specifies a particular quantity of income as a single credit. This quantity increases each year in accordance with average American earnings.

For example, in 2019, workers will receive one credit for each $1,360 of their qualifying income. Regardless of one’s total income, the SSA caps work credits at 4 per year. Generally, you need 40 work credits to qualify for SSDI, 20 of which must have been earned in the 10 years just prior to the disability. These requirements are scaled for younger applicants with shorter work histories.

If you are currently working, your earnings must be less than $1220 a month for you to be considered disabled.

Your Disability

SSDI only pays benefits for total, long-term disabilities—not partial or short-term. If your work history and income meet the above criteria, Disability Determination Services will collect information from your doctors and other medical personnel to assess your condition according to the following:

  • The Severity of your Disability
    Can you lift, stand, walk, sit, and remember things well enough to work?
  • Type of Disability
    Your disability must be included in the SSA’s list of qualifying medical conditions. If your disability is not on this list, the agency will determine if your condition is severe enough to warrant inclusion.
  • Types of work you can do
    If you can do the kind of work you’ve done previously, your claim will be denied. Otherwise, the SSA will decide if you are well enough to do some other type of work instead.
  • Length of Time You are Disabled
    You must be (or expected to be) disabled as described above for at least one year, or until death if the disability is expected to result in death.

Partial SSDI benefits are also available for individuals who are legally blind, disabled widows and widowers, veterans, and disabled children of any age who are dependents of qualified workers.

Your Payments

Once your disability has been determined, the SSA will decide on the Established Onset Date (EOD). This is the date on which the SSA believes you became disabled according to the criteria outlined above. This date may differ from your Alleged Onset Date (AOD), the date you claim on your application for benefits.

Unfortunately, your payments won’t begin until after a five-month waiting period that begins on your EOD. Once the waiting period is over, your benefit payments will reflect your earnings record, similar to the way Social Security Retirement payments are calculated. After receiving SSDI benefits for 2 years, beneficiaries are eligible for Medicare.

Sobering Outcomes

Not surprisingly, the SSA is quite strict in determining who is eligible to receive SSDI benefits and when those benefits should begin. While it varies by state, of the millions of Americans who apply for SSDI each year, 65-70% are denied. The SSA rejects claims based on their belief that:

  • You lack medical evidence to support your claim
  • You are, in fact, capable of performing some kind of work
  • You aren’t doing everything you can to get better (take medications, receive therapy, etc.)

How I Can Help

If you’ve experienced a severe injury or illness that’s preventing you from working, you are most likely entitled to SSDI benefits. And your chances for a successful claim or appeal are significantly improved by legal counsel and representation. If you are filing your first claim, I can help you:

  • Establish your AOD (Alleged Onset Date)
  • Focus your application on those aspects of your case that are most important to the SSA
  • Help you collect and submit the proper medical evidence to support your claim

If you’ve already filed an initial claim and been denied benefits, I can help you appeal the decision by:

  • Crafting a strong legal argument for the judge
  • Preparing you to testify at the hearing
  • Cross-examining a Vocational or Medical Expert

Affordability

Federal law requires SSDI attorneys to charge 25% of whatever is determined to be the claimant's backpay (the time between your EOD and your actual payments), with a total limit of $6,000. You pay nothing if your claim is denied.

Get a Free Consultation

The processing time for an SSDI claim can be quite long. So the sooner you get in touch with a skilled SSDI attorney, the better. I can help speed your case through the system—especially if your situation is desperate, either financially or medically. I may even be able to request an On the Record (OTR) decision, which would allow you to receive benefits without a hearing.

You deserve a compassionate advocate who will fight for you to receive the SSDI benefits you’re entitled to. Call 301-589-4597 or email me at ds@dsteinlaw.com today for a free consultation about your disability case.

Supplemental Security Income

When Disability Insurance Is Not Enough

While Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments come from a trust fund comprised of workers’ individual contributions over their lifetimes, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is paid directly from the U.S. Treasury. The Social Security Administration (SSA) simply manages the program.

Qualifying for SSI

To be eligible for SSI, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen or national living in the U.S. or the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Age 65 or older
  • Either blind or disabled

The SSA also gives special consideration for the following circumstances:

  • Disabled or blind children of parents with limited income and resources
  • Some U.S. residents who are not citizens
  • Applicants who live in a publicly operated community home with fewer than 17 residents
  • Individuals living in a public institution to facilitate attendance at an approved educational or job-training program
  • Residents of a public shelter for the homeless
  • Incarcerated individuals who do not have any:
    • Felonies or arrest warrants for escape from custody
    • Flights to avoid prosecution or confinement
    • Flight escapes
  • Residents of institutions whose Medicaid benefits cover more than half of their care may receive a reduced SSI benefit
Divorced Applicants

Additionally, as with all Social Security benefits, SSI is available to divorced individuals when they are:

  • Currently eligible for Social Security benefits
  • Divorced after a marriage lasting at least 10 years
  • Currently unmarried
  • Divorced from someone who is currently age 62 or older
  • Entitled to benefits that are less than the benefits their ex-spouse would be entitled to

If all of these criteria are met, a divorced applicant can begin receiving benefits as soon as 2 years following his or her divorce. The SSA will first apply all of the benefits the applicant has accrued on his or her own work record. Then they will apply benefits based on the ex-spouse’s record until the “marital portion”—50% of the ex-spouse’s full retirement benefits—is reached.

Disabilities

As with SSDI benefits, to receive SSI payments, you must prove your disability prevents you from working. The SSA provides a list of specific conditions and diseases, both physical and mental, that qualify. The SSA will accept conditions that aren’t on their list when the impact is severe enough.

While benefits are not available for rehabilitation services for substance abuse, individuals diagnosed with addiction who can prove they are in recovery may qualify for assistance with problems arising from their addiction, such as cirrhosis of the liver or anxiety disorders. Even if you believe the diagnosis was incorrect, enrolling in a recovery program will increase your chances of qualifying for SSI benefits.

Income

The SSA calculates both income and resources to determine if an individual is eligible for benefits. The first $20 of most types of income, and the first $65 of work income, are considered exempt. The SSA uses the remaining 50% of an individual’s income to determine eligibility. Income from spouses, as well as income from parents of disabled minors, are included in the SSA’s calculations.

Exemptions from this income include:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits
  • Energy assistance
  • Donated shelter
  • A portion of scholarships and work wages of student applicants
  • Any wages used to pay for items necessary to maintain a job, such as a wheelchair, or bus fare for blind applicants

Resources

Individuals with resources under $2000 and married couples with resources under $3000 may be able to qualify for SSI. The SSA defines resources as most of your assets, including:

  • Real estate that is not your home
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Cash savings
  • Retirement accounts

Assets that are not considered resources include::

  • The home (and land) in which you live
  • Life insurance policies worth less than $1500
  • Your car, in most cases
  • Burial plots for you and your immediate family
  • The first $1500 in burial funds, and an additional $1500 in burial funds for your spouse

SSI in Maryland

While the SSA manages the SSI program at the federal level, each state is responsible for running their own Disability Determination Services (DDS). This agency administers both SSDI and SSI benefits. The Maryland DDS agency is run by its Department of Rehabilitative Services (DORS).

Maryland, as with most states, offers a supplement to the federal SSI base payments. This additional monthly benefit ranges between $52 and $666. Combined with the federal payments, your SSI total benefits can be anywhere from $770 to $1380 per month.

Appealing a Denial

As with SSDI, the national approval rate for SSI applications is around 36%. If your claim has been denied, I can help you through the next steps to process an appeal.

Reconsideration

The first phase of an appeal is called a Request for Reconsideration. These appeals are really re-submissions to the same DDS office that issued the first denial, this time with a different person in the office conducting the review. This should be thought of as a second opinion. Only around 13% of these appeals are successful.

Administrative Law Hearing

The next step is a hearing before an administrative law judge at a federal hearing office called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). A whopping 62% of these appeals are approved, so it is definitely worth fighting an initial denial.

Appeals Council

If administrative law judge did deny your appeal, you can take your case to the Appeals Council where approval rates drop to 13%.

Federal Court

Whatever you do, don’t give up. If you are still denied after your Appeals Council hearing, you can take your case to a federal court where your chances for approval jump to 40%.

Help With Navigating the System

The application and appeals process for SSI cases are notoriously long and can require quite a bit of paperwork. A disability that prevents you from working requires your full attention. But you don’t have to burden yourself further with legal processes, court filings, and easy-to-miss rules and requirements. I can provide the full legal support you need to secure the benefits you’re entitled to—so you can concentrate on your health and wellness.

As with SSDI, I charge no more than 25% of whatever is determined to be your backpay—the time between the Established Onset Date (EOD) of your disability and your actual payments, with a total limit of $6,000. You pay nothing if your claim is denied.

Get Started with a Free Consultation

SSI isn’t a perk or a handout. It is the legal right of Americans who are suffering from debilitating conditions and limited resources. Securing the benefits you are entitled to gives you a chance to live the fullest and most independent life possible with dignity. Regardless of your physical condition, no less than the Declaration of Independence establishes your right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Call 301-589-4597 or email me at ds@dsteinlaw.com today to win the benefits and support you deserve.