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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Social Security and Disability

There are two main Social Security programs to support people with disabilities, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Disability under Social Security is based on your inability to work. You are considered to be disabled under Social Security rules if you cannot do work that you did before and it is decided that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Your disability must also last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

In addition to meeting the definition of disability, you must have worked long enough, and recently enough, under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits. A person must have worked at least 5 of the 10 years immediately before the disability and paid FICA taxes. The disability or impairments must be expected to last for at least 12 months.

SSDI benefits are available to workers who have "medically determinable" impairments that prevent them from staying on the job or from performing any "substantial gainful activity." SSDI is the safety net for workers who cannot be helped by adjustments and adaptations called "reasonable accommodations" in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A large number of initial SSDI claims are denied by Social Security. There are three levels of appeals process, though. To win a claim at any level, an applicant must provide medical evidence of a disabling condition. The best source of this evidence is the applicant’s doctor, not the applicant.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that makes monthly payments to people who have limited income and resources if they are 65 or older or if they are blind or have another disability. Being eligible for SSI means you receive a monthly benefit and, depending on the state where you live, the following benefits and services: Medicaid; food stamps; Medicare premiums are paid (all states).

Supplemental Security Income benefits are not based on your prior work or a family member's prior work.

In most states, SSI recipients also can get Medicaid (medical assistance) to pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other health costs.

SSI recipients may also be eligible for food stamps in every state except California. The SSI Program is funded by General Revenue. It is not funded through Social Security taxes withheld under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).

Contact the nearest Social Security office for details on disability programs.

Source: Social Security Administration, Allsup, Inc.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Social Security and Disability (PDF)

Disability.govserves as the official government website on disability resources for the public. It was created by the federal government to serve as the single online point-of-reference for information and programs related to disability. The site is managed across all federal agencies under the New Freedom Initiative.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ RepresentativesThe National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) provides representation and advocacy on behalf of persons who are seeking Social Security and Supplemental Security Income.

Social Security AdministrationThe official website for the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Social Security Disability InformationThe Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.