If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are undergoing treatment, you may find that you are no longer able to work and earn a living the same way that you were before your diagnosis. Disability insurance may provide you with some income if you are unable to work because of your medical condition. Disability insurance benefits are offered by the federal government, some state governments, or through a private insurance company.
This Quick Guide covers one of the two federal, long-term disability benefit programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
SSI provides monthly financial assistance to individuals who have: 1) a disability, or are age 65 or older, 2) low income, and 3) low resources.
The SSA has a very strict definition of disability. You must:
SSA uses this process to see if you qualify for disability benefits:
In general, the more countable income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the limit, you will not receive SSI benefits. Income is anything you receive, cash or in-kind, that can be used to meet needs for food and shelter. This includes:
In addition to your income, SSA also looks at the value of your resources (e.g., your assets). The countable resource limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. If your resources exceed the limit at the beginning of a month, you are not eligible for SSI benefits that month. Examples of non-countable resources:
If you transfer your resources to another person for less than fair market value, you could be ineligible for SSI benefits for up to 36 months.
Step 1: SSA subtracts any non-countable income from your total gross income. The remaining amount is your “countable income.”
Step 2: SSA subtracts your “countable income” from the SSI federal benefit rate, to get your monthly SSI benefit amount:
You will be eligible for benefits beginning the first full month after SSA decides your disability began. In 2023, the maximum monthly SSI federal benefit is $914 for an individual and $1,371 for a couple, who live independently.
States automatically provide Medicaid eligibility to people eligible for SSI benefits, except for these states: CT, HI, IL, MN, MO, ND, NH, OK, VA.
Some states add money to your federal SSI payments. Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia do not offer supplemental payments. However, some states pay a supplement only when a person with a disability lives in a certain setting, such as an adult care home or nursing home. The amount of the state supplement ranges from about $10 to $400, depending on the state.
These states have supplements that are managed by the Social Security Administration:
If your state is not on this list, this means they administer their own supplemental payment program, and you have to file a supplemental application with the state agency.
|State||Maximum Payment for Individual/Couple Based on Disability (2022)*|
*Amounts for 2023 have not been released to date, but will likely be increased.
Before starting your application, make sure you have all the information and documents needed to apply, including:
The approval process can be quick or it can take many months, so it is important not to delay applying. Once they have decided about your application, you will receive a letter in the mail. You can also check the status of your application online, using your mySocialSecurity account.
The SSA has 3 ways to speed up the application process.
Many applications for SSI are initially denied. You must appeal in writing within 60 days of receiving the denial letter, and the SSA assumes that you received the denial letter 5 days after the date on the letter. Be sure to work with your health care team throughout all stages of the appeals process.
There are 4 levels of the appeal process:
Social Security disability appeals attorneys work on a contingency fee, meaning they will take a case even if the individual does not have the money upfront to pay for the attorney’s services. If the attorney wins an appeal, he or she will take a percentage of back payments an individual receives. Any fee charged by a representative must be approved in writing by the SSA. The SSA will not approve a fee that is more than 25% of back payments, up to a maximum of $7,200.
Attorneys are allowed to charge clients for other expenses, such as reimbursement for the cost of obtaining medical records, postage, or travel expenses. Make sure to understand what the attorney charges for these types of services, prior to signing a contract with the attorney.
If you have a complicated case that requires multiple hearings or an appeal to the Appeals Council or federal court, a lawyer can ask the SSA to be paid more than the $7,200 limit. The SSA will review the fee petition and will approve it only if it is reasonable.
For information about hiring an SSDI appeals attorney, read our Quick Guide to Legal Assistance.
You may also qualify for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), if you qualify for SSI. You may also qualify for other programs and services offered by your local county health or human services office, including homemaker and chore services, child care, transportation, and home-delivered meals.
Last updated: 12/2022
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