How can someone with Special Needs become eligible for SSI – The Disability Test

Today’s blog post continues the series about Special Needs Law.  The blog post on February 19, 2015 gave an overview of the legal issues facing people with special needs.  The blog post on February 5, 2015 discussed the new ABLE accounts.  The blog post on February 26, 2015 discussed sources of income for people with special needs.  The blog post on March 5, 2015 discussed medical insurance for people with special needs.

Today’s post discusses how the Social Security Administration looks at a disability when considering a request for Supplemental Security Income (SSI.)

A special needs person’s eligibility for SSI creates a monthly flow of income and also gives the person Medicaid coverage for medical needs and, if necessary, for long term care needs as well.  The importance of these income and care programs makes the eligibility for SSI crucial.

SSI eligibility has a three-pronged test.  Applicants (1) must be unable to support themselves through work because of some disability, and (2) must have income below the SSI payment level, and (3) must have assets below certain levels determined by federal rule.  This week’s blog will discuss the “unable to support themselves through work” test.

The “unable to support yourself through work” test is different for applicants of different ages.

Someone under 50 years old must show that:

  • the disability prevents him or her from performing any job that exists in the marketplace.
    (This is, a very difficult thing to prove.  It does not matter whether the job that the applicant could perform has any available openings.  It matters only that the job exists.)

Someone age 50-54 must show that:

  • he or she cannot now perform any of the work that he or she performed in the 15 years before the SSI application,
  • he or she does not have transferable skills that would allow a transition to a job for which he or she has the necessary physical and mental capacity, and
  • he or she is not capable of performing any work more strenuous than a sit-down job (called “sedentary work.”)
    (The consideration of past work and training and the acceptance that sedentary work may not be a satisfactory job makes it easier for a 50 year old to show disability than for younger applicants to show.)

Someone age 55-59 must show that:

  • he or she cannot now perform any of the work that he or she performed in the 15 years before the SSI application,
  • he or she does not have transferable skills that would allow a transition to a job for which he or she has the necessary physical and mental capacity, and
  • he or she is not capable of performing work for which he or she must stand for most of the work shift and must occasionally lift and carry a load of 20 pounds (called “light work.”)
    (Because light work is more strenuous than sedentary work, it is easier for a 55 year old to prove a disability than for younger applicants to show.)

Someone age 60 or older must show that:

  • he or she cannot now perform any of the work that he or she performed in the 15 years before the SSI application,
  • he or she does not have transferable skills that would allow an almost seamless transition to a job for which he or she has the necessary physical and mental capacity, and
  • he or she is not capable of performing light work.
    (Because the transferable skills test requires “an almost seamless transition” to a different job, it is easier for a 60 year old to prove a disability than for younger applicants to show.)

Once someone has started to receive SSI payments, the person must maintain eligibility for SSI for the payments to continue.  Accordingly, the person must continue to meet the eligibility tests described above.

I must thank my friend Scott Kolligian, an attorney with Leiby Hanna Rasnick in Akron, Ohio, for information necessary to this article.  I do not help people prove to the Social Security Administration that they are disabled.  Scott does that.  (My work for people with special needs or disabilities focuses on the financial eligibility, but this proof of disability piece is so closely related to what I do that I wanted to include it in the special needs series.)  To find out more about Scott, visit AkronDisabilityLawyer.com.

 

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