The Social Security Act provides two benefit programs for disabled persons: Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Social Security Disability
Social Security Disability is available to individuals who have contributed to a Social Security account. These individuals earn “quarters of coverage” based on their contributions. To meet the required number of quarters, an individual usually must work five (5) out of the last ten (10) years. There are some allowances for younger persons who have not had the opportunity to work for that long.
Supplemental Security Income
Supplemental Security Income is a need-based program for individuals who are not covered by the SSD program. These benefits are determined based on individual income and assets. The standard in determining whether an individual is disabled for this program is the same as the SSD program.
Who is “Disabled?”
To be eligible for either of the above benefits, individuals must demonstrate that he or she is “totally disabled.” This means they must prove they have a physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments) severe enough to prevent them from performing substantial gainful activity (any regular paying job) for at least twelve (12) consecutive months.
The requirement is not whether an individual would be offered a job, but whether there are jobs available that he or she could perform. There are certain allowances for individuals of advanced age allowing for a more realistic look at age, education and experience in meeting this test.