Can I get disability benefits if I never worked?

Recently on our legal forum we had a user ask, "If I have never worked can I get disability benefits?" Unfortunately, the federal disability programs can be confusing. Many disability applicants are unsure of what benefits are offered and what they have to prove to receive benefits. So let's first discuss what disability programs are available from the Federal Government.

Disability programs offered by the Federal Government

There are two separate disability programs offered by the Federal Government: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is offered to workers who have worked, paid into the SSA system through their employment taxes, and who are now 100% disabled and unable to work for at least 12 continuous months. If you have not worked or paid sufficient taxes to be considered "insured" for SSDI, you will not qualify for SSDI benefits.

Next, the Federal Government offers Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI if offered to the aged (65 years and older), the blind, and the disabled. To qualify for SSI you do not have to work or pay money into the system and you do not have to be insured. You will, however, have to prove you have VERY limited income and resources to qualify for SSI benefits.

What is the difference between SSDI and SSI benefits?

Both SSI and SSDI have the same criteria to determine whether a claimant is disabled. To qualify for either program as a disabled applicant you will have to prove you cannot work, you are not working currently or you are working but not performing what the SSA considers "substantial gainful activity." You will also have to prove your condition will last at least 12 continuous months.

The biggest different between SSDI and SSI is the payment amount. SSDI is based on a complicated formula constructed by the SSA using your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) and Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). The average amount paid for SSDI is $1,132 per month, but you can receive up to $2,533. If you have questions about your SSDI payout you can contact the SSA.

SSI payouts, however, are based on the Federal Benefit Rate and are currently $721 per month for an individual and $1,082 per month for a couple. There are some states which add a supplemental payment, making SSI benefits higher in those states. There are also factors which can reduce your SSI payment each month. For instance, if you work or if you live with someone providing you with food and shelter the SSA can reduce your payments each month.

Finally, SSDI provides Medicare to qualifying claimants, and SSI provides Medicaid benefits.

So what's the bottom line? If you have not worked, you have very limited income and resources, and you are currently 100% disabled, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income. If you are disabled and your income and resources are NOT limited and you have not worked, you will not qualify for any federal disability benefits.

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