Consulting an SSI disability attorney can be an important first step to navigating your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits claim.
In many cases, an initial consultation is free, and SSI claimants won’t pay an attorney’s fee up front. Rather, 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.
However, you may still be weighing whether to speak with an attorney about your SSI disability claim. It’s perfectly reasonable to consider your options and research next steps before making big decisions about your case.
As you move forward with your claim, here are five things you need to know about SSI benefits.
5. What Is SSI? Do You Qualify?
SSI is a needs-based benefits program 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.
To qualify, you must meet these criteria:
- For 2020, make no more than $1,260 per month for non-blind persons (known as Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA). Certain assets you own may also be considered to determine eligibility.
- Be able to medically prove a physical or psychological disorder which causes more than a minimal 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.
4. SSI or SSDI? What’s the Difference?
The types of disability benefits offered by the SSA may seem confusing to first-time applicants. As stated above, SSI is a needs-based program, with eligibility determined by your income, as well as factors such as age and level of disability.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an earned benefit that requires you to earn work credits. You earn work credits, or “quarters,” by earning a certain amount of money through employment or self-employment income. You can earn up to four quarters per 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.”
Note: The SSA determines your level of physical or mental disability, and ability to work, based on the same determining factors for both programs. Speak with an attorney to learn more about how the SSA determines disability.
3. Most Initial SSI Claims Are Denied—and Appeals Take Time
More accurately, the entire process of seeking SSI benefits will take time, sometimes months or even years, to complete. Most initial SSI claims–roughly 70%–are denied and must be appealed.
Levels of appeal include:
- Reconsideration of your case by different reviewers at the SSA
- A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- A review with the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia
- Federal court
The SSA states that on average it can take three to five months to review your information and reach a decision, but the wait can vary depending on unique factors of your case, and appeals will obviously take longer.
You typically have 60 days after receiving a decision to request an appeal.
In some instances, your SSI case can be expedited. A couple of examples include Compassionate Allowances (CAL) for especially severe disabilities, as well as if you’re a Veteran with a 100% disability rating. However, it’s important to temper your expectations and understand that resolving your case will typically take time.
2. You’ve Won Your SSI Benefits. What’s Next?
If you’ve won your benefits, first congratulations are in order. Now it’s time to understand the next steps. While your attorney and the SSA can help you understand what you need to do to maintain your benefits, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you have retained the services of an SSI disability attorney, they will collect their attorney’s fee (up to $6,000) from your first disability check (your award of back pay), before the SSA sends the award of back pay to you. This will be discussed with you and agreed upon when you first agree to move forward with your case with your attorney.
- Depending on your circumstances, as of 2020 you will earn a maximum of $783 per individual or $1,175 per couple in SSI payments. You will receive your benefits (usually via direct deposit) on the first of each month. You can receive payments beginning on the sixth month after you become disabled.
- Typically, you will retain benefits for as long as your condition has not improved, and you cannot work. The SSA will let you know what changes to report. They will conduct periodic reviews of your condition.
There are other considerations outlined by the SSA, such as when to file taxes for your benefits, cost-of-living adjustments, and what to do when you retire.
1. Why You Should Call an SSI Disability Attorney
There are many reasons to consult an attorney when seeking benefits for your disability. Relying on the right attorney gives you an expert advocate who will help give you the best opportunity possible for winning your benefits.
You may be:
- in the initial stages of filing a claim
- awaiting a decision
- appealing an initial claim denial by the Social Security Administration (SSA)
Regardless of the stage of your case you are in, a qualified SSI disability attorney can help.
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 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-4978.