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Resources for Individuals with Disabilities

Sometimes people lose income due to having an illness or accident that has lasting effects. This section provides information and resources to explore for Social Security disability benefits or supplemental income.

Social Security Disability Benefits

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, a person must first have worked in jobs covered by Social Security. See the section below for more information about Social Security Supplemental Income for children or adults with limited income and resources. People who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability may be eligible for monthly benefits. A year is a long time to be without income. Social Security program rules assume that individuals have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.

The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. (Check out the “5 Key Questions” below.) Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

An individual could be considered disabled under Social Security rules if:

  • They cannot do work that they did before;
  • Social Security decides that a person cannot do other work because of their medical condition(s); and
  • The disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

You can apply for Social Security disability benefits online or by calling toll-free to 1-800-772-1213. After applying for benefits, it could take 3-5 months to find out if a claim has been approved or denied. Less than four out of 10 applicants are found eligible for Social Security disability benefits, even after all levels of appeal. The disability waiting period begins with the first full month after the date the Administration decides a disability began, but will not begin until the sixth full month of disability. You can find more information about this benefit, frequently asked questions, and a Starter Kit to applying on the Administration’s website.

Five Questions Social Security Uses to Review Disability Applications

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses 5 key questions as a step-by-step guide to decide if someone is disabled:

  1. Are you working? If a person is working and they make over a certain amount per month, they will usually not be considered disabled. In 2020, the monthly average earnings cannot be more than $1,260. If a person is not working, then their application will be sent to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office which uses Steps 2-5 below to make the decision.
  2. Is your condition severe? A condition must limit a person’s ability to do basic work — such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering – for at least 12 months. If it does not, the SSA will find that a person is not disabled. If a condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, they go to Step 3.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? SSA has a list of medical conditions considered so severe that it keeps a person from working. If a condition is not on the list, SSA will decide if it is as severe as a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, they will rule that a person is disabled. If it is not, then they go to Step 4. View the list of conditions on the website.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? SSA will decide if a medical impairment(s) prevents someone from continuing their past work. It is doesn’t, they will decide a person doesn’t have a qualifying disability. If it does, they move to Step 5.
  5. Can you do any other type of work? They consider a person’s medical conditions and age, education, past work experience, and other work skills. If they think someone can do other work, they will decide that there is no qualifying disability and a claim will be denied.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. Because SSI is a needs-based program for people who are aged, blind, or disabled, the amount of benefits received is based partly on current income. Generally, the more income available, the less the SSI payment will be. Learn about SSI on the website.

Individuals can apply for SSI online if they meet certain requirements including:

  • Are between the ages of 18 and 65;
  • Have never been married;
  • Aren’t blind;
  • Are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the fifty states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands;
  • Haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past; and
  • Are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time as they submit an SSI claim.

If a person is not able to apply online, they can call toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 and submit an application over the phone or schedule an appointment at the nearest Social Security office. If approved for SSI, disability benefits begin the first full month after the date a claim is submitted or the date a person becomes eligible for SSI. You can find more information about this benefit, frequently asked questions, and a Starter Kit to applying on the Administration’s website.

Children and Young Adults with a Disability

There are different rules and programs for children younger than age 18 who have disabilities that might make them eligible for SSI payments. Read them on the website.  It is also for adults who became disabled in childhood (before age 22), and who might be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. SSDI benefits are a “child’s” benefit because it’s paid on a parent’s Social Security earnings record. More information about this benefit can be found on the Administration’s website.

Additional Resources

Wisconsin’s Aging and Disability Resource Centers provide benefit specialists to help answer questions and solve problems related to benefits, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Share, and private health insurance. Disability benefit specialists serve adults with disabilities ages 18 to 59. Elder benefit specialists serve people age 60 or older.

Internal Revenue Service – Individuals with disabilities may qualify for certain tax deductions, income exclusions, and credits. More detailed information may be found on the IRS website. is an online resource to help people find federal benefits they may be eligible for in the United States.
The Access website from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services helps individuals to identify if they are eligible for State assistance programs, like food or heating assistance.

Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for Social Security disability beneficiaries age 18 through 64 who want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary to help people with disabilities progress toward future financial independence.

The ABLE National Resource Center has information on ABLE accounts. ABLE Accounts are tax-advantaged savings accounts specifically for individuals with disabilities and their families. These funds can be used to pay for housing and transportation, personal assistance services, assistive technology, and health care not covered by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. ABLE savings accounts will largely not affect an individual’s eligibility for SSI, Medicaid and means-tested programs such as FAFSA, HUD and SNAP/food stamp benefits. This fact sheet walks through six steps to setting up an ABLE account for WI residents.

The National Disability Institute has a Financial Resilience Center website with financial resources to cope with an economic downturn and access to free online financial wellness training and financial counseling.

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