Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Definition of "Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)"

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What is SSDI? It is a form of financial aid for people living with a disability that impacts their quality of life. As one of the largest Federal programs designed to provide assistance to people with disabilities, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program is best suited for adults who have been previously employed. Social security is a concept first transposed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, it has been amended by President Eisenhower in 1956 to provide coverage for people with disabilities and has been continuously improved ever since.  

According to Section 223(d)(1) of the Social Security Act, the definition of a disability is: “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months,” as well as people over 55 with acquired blindness.

The Social Security Administration's list of impairments is also known as the blue book and describes a number of conditions that automatically qualify for SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI):

  • musculoskeletal problems (back injuries)
  • hematological disorders or disorders of bone marrow failure
  • cardiovascular conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease)
  • various syndromes (Sjogren's Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome)
  • respiratory illnesses (COPD, asthma)
  • neurological disorders (multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy)
  • kidney disease and genitourinary problems
  • immune system disorders (HIV/AIDS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • mental disorders (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, retardation)
  • skin disorders (dermatitis, severe psoriasis)
  • digestive tract problems (liver disease, IBD)
  • cancer
  • vision impairments and hearing loss

Most beneficiaries are disabled workers, over the age of 50. In December 2017, disabled workers aged 60–64 were the largest group of beneficiaries, with 31% men and 30.2% women.  Disability benefits become retirement benefits at the age of full retirement, (65–67 - depending on the year of birth). There has been a steady increase in the number of disabled beneficiaries since 1970 - from 1.8 million to 10 million in 2017. The main reason behind the applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was musculoskeletal system and connective tissue for disabled workers, while disabled adult children (those with a disability acquired prior to age 22) suffered from intellectual disabilities or other mental disorders and many of them needed special education.

How much can I earn on SSDI?

In 2017, beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program received $11.5 billion and an average monthly benefit of $1,196.87, according to statistics released by the Social Security Administration in October 2018. Financial benefits are a function of the average lifetime earnings and are usually between $800 and $1,800, with an average of $1,234 for 2019. To get an estimate, visit or request the help of a field representative from the local Social Security office.

Proof of low income caused by a disability is one of the social security disability requirements. On the one side, there are some income limits in place for those who want to apply for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program, so if you are disabled, you need an income lower than $1,220 and under $2,040 for blind applicants. On the other side, there are no limits with regard to the unearned income such as passive income from real estate investments (rents), interest, or a spouse’s salary.

To increase the chance of approval, applicants should work with a disability advocate or an attorney to make sure their application is complete. The application for a child is made in the presence of a Social Security Administration representative, while the application for an adult could be made online. SSDI beneficiaries can also find affordable housing by applying for the Section 811 program.

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