Many federal government benefit programs rely on a means test for eligibility. For instance, those who have more than a specified amount in income or other assets may not qualify for Medicaid. The Supplemental Security Income program has very tight requirements for eligibility that take into account all income and assets that an individual has or has access to.
By contrast, the Social Security Disability Insurance program has no real means test. The program is paid for through payroll taxes, and anyone who has worked long enough to pay into the system should be eligible to receive the benefits if the Social Security Administration determines that they have a qualifying condition.
Substantial gainful activity
That said, a benefits recipient may lose their eligibility if the SSA determines that they have engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” In other words, if the recipient takes a new job and earns over a specified amount of money, the SSA may decide they are no longer eligible for benefits. Perhaps this is just a matter of semantics, but this determination isn’t so much a means test as it is a test of the person’s health condition. The SSD program is for workers who have become unable to take on gainful employment due to injury, illness or other condition. If they are able to earn a living, then the SSA determines that they don’t need the benefits.
The dollar amount of the benefits depends upon the income of the individual over the course of their working life before the disability. People who earned more during their working years will receive more than those who earned smaller wages, although there is a cap on how high the monthly benefit may be.
If all goes well, a person whose work history and current disability make them eligible for the program should receive benefits that will be a sizeable percentage of their salary before their disability. Unfortunately, applicants often find their first application rejected. An attorney with experience in Social Security Disability and other benefits programs can help these applicants fight for the benefits they need.