Health and Public Benefits

Social Security disability programs

You can apply to the Social Security Administration for cash assistance if you are disabled and no longer able to work. Read more to find out if you might be eligible and how to apply. 

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Understanding the Basics

See what you need to know to take action.

The Social Security Administration has two programs that can provide cash assistance to people with disabilities. 

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is based on work history. It is for people who have paid into the system, but who are no longer able to work due to disability. 
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is based on need. It is for people who haven't worked much, if at all, due to disability. 

Eligibility for SSI and SSDI

To qualify for SSDI, you must:

  • Be a US citizen or a legal resident living in the United States
  • Be under 65 years old
  • Have a qualifying work history
  • Show proof of a disability that prevents you from working and is expected to last at least a year, or result in death

The SSI eligibility requirements are the same except that there is no work requirement, and you must demonstrate financial need.

The medical requirements for these two programs are the same. You must prove you have a disability, which requires records from your doctors.

Applying for SSI and SSDI

The application process can take several months. If your medical condition is on the list of “Compassionate Allowances," your application may be approved more quickly.

Your application will be reviewed for both SSI and SSDI at the same time. You may hear back that you don't qualify for one of the programs while your application for the other is still pending. 

The first step to apply is opening an account with the Social Security Administration. Once you have an account you can apply for disability online. You can also apply in-person or over the phone. Call (800) 772-1213 to make an in-person or phone appointment to apply.

Mail-in copies of any medical records that you have with your application. This will help them process your application more quickly. You can also bring your documents to your local Social Security Administration office if you apply in-person.

Getting a lawyer

Many people get the help of a lawyer who specializes in disability and SSI. An attorney can help you figure out if you're eligible, help you apply or help you appeal a denial. 

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