Applying for Disability

The state and federal government manage three major disability programs that distribute insurance benefit payments. Each program enforces different eligibility requirements and conditions for disabled individuals. Prospective applicants should understand these differences to decide which program best fits their needs and situation.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal need-based program funded by general tax revenues. It is intended for US citizens who are over 65 years old, blind or disabled, and who qualify as low income. SSI does not consider employment history, so individuals who have never worked are still eligible to receive SSI. There is no filing fee to apply and the Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay for any additional medical exams or testing that they require. SSA provides a checklist of the information needed for adult disability SSI applications. As of January 1, 2022, the Federal benefit rate is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple.

State Disability Insurance (SDI) is a state-funded program for Californians that provides partial wage replacement for applicants who previously worked, but are now unable to because of a non-work-related disability. SDI defines a disability as “an illness or injury, either physical or mental, which prevents you from performing your regular and customary work.” Through this program, beneficiaries can receive 60 to 70 percent of the wages earned 5 to 18 months before the claim start date. Applicants can use the California Employment Development Department’s online calculator to calculate their estimated benefit amount. To apply for benefits, applicants must file a claim through SDI Online or by mail, complete an unpaid seven-day waiting period, and have a physician certify a disability by completing the Physician Certification. The payment method is chosen by applicants and can be distributed either by electronic payment that is deposited to an issued debit card or by mail. California’s SDI program is intended for short-term monetary support as beneficiaries can only receive payment for a maximum of a year. 

Lastly, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that gives monetary benefits to individuals with long-term disabilities who have worked or family members who previously worked. To apply for adult disability benefits online, applicants must be 18 or older, not receiving any other Social Security benefits, and unable to work because of a medical condition for at least 12 months. After completing the disability benefits application and the medical release form, SSA will process the application and contact applicants if they require additional documentation. SSA will mail its decision to the applicant, which they can appeal to within 60 days of receiving it. Appeals can be submitted online for reconsideration. An online calculator is available to compute monthly disability payments.

Interested individuals can apply online for SSI or SSDI or call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-722-1213 for further support. The SSA website also offers extensive checklists and resources for applying. Please refer to California’s Employment Development Department to access the SDI online application or to learn more about its process.