Local attorneys, Pat Nelson, Bob Bryan and Gina Cross of Nelson Bryan and Cross, sponsor this weekly column.
Social Security Disability Is NOT Welfare
Q: I am 60 years old. I had to stop work because of two back surgeries. I would like to apply for Social Security disability benefit but my husband and I have a retirement nest egg worth about $250,000, so I guess we are not eligible. Do I just wait until I am 62 to sign up for retirement benefits?
A: I am constantly amazed by the number of people who equate the Social Security disability program with welfare. It is not. You paid for this protection with Social Security tax deductions each pay period. You can be rich or poor and qualify for Social Security retirement. And you can be rich or poor and qualify for Social Security disability. If Bill Gates became disabled tomorrow, he could file for Social Security disability benefits. And so can you.
Maybe it would help if you think of the Social Security disability program as an early disability retirement benefit, which is what it really is.
Q: My 59-year-old wife recently became disabled. I called Social Security's 800 number to ask about SSI, but they said because of my income that she isn't eligible. (I work, so we have my salary and I also get a military retirement pension.) But my wife worked all her life. So why can't she get disability now?
A: I purposely put your question after the prior one to further help clear up confusion many people have about disability benefits — in this case, about two entirely separate government disability programs.
If you used the same terminology with Social Security's call center people as you did in your question to me, then I understand why you got the answer you did.
You said you asked about getting your wife "on SSI." SSI is short for Supplemental Security Income. That is a federal welfare program that pays a small monthly stipend (about $725 per month) to poor people who are disabled.
The Social Security Administration manages the SSI program for the federal government. And this leads to all kinds of confusion because so many people think that SSI is some kind of Social Security benefit. It is NOT.
Also, many other people think that SSI is the same thing as Social Security disability. Again, it is not. Supplemental Security Income is for poor people. To repeat, it makes monthly payments to poor people who have disabilities. Social Security is for anyone (rich or poor) who has worked and paid Social Security taxes. Social Security retirement is for folks 62 or older. Social Security disability goes to people under 65 who are unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment.
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