Social Security Disability Benefits: Pros & Cons

Filling Need

The Social Security disability insurance program provides money to disabled workers who need it most. Only workers who are expected to be disabled for at least a full year, or whose injuries are expected to result in death, qualify to receive benefits. These workers face at least a year out of their jobs, which puts them at much greater risk of financial hardship, including losing their homes or going bankrupt. While other disability insurance programs pay workers for short-term disability, Social Security focuses on the most severe cases.

Limited Eligibility

Social Security only pays disability benefits to workers who meet certain criteria. To determine eligibility the Social Security Administration looks at a worker's age and employment history. Disabled workers must have worked a certain percentage of time in the past to qualify. These requirements vary based on age. For example, a 30-year-old who becomes disabled needs to have worked at least 4-1/2 years between age 21 and age 30. However, a 50-year old needs to have worked for five out of the 10 years immediately prior to the disability and a total of at least seven years since age 21.

Processing

The process for activating a Social Security disability benefits claim can be slow and complex. Workers need to file a claim soon after becoming disabled and the full process can take up to five months before the first check arrives. The Social Security Administration will review the worker's paperwork and also consult with doctors who are familiar with the worker's condition. If the agency denies a claim, the worker may appeal it, but this adds more time to the process and may or may not result in a reversal of the decision.

Funding

Social Security disability benefits have the advantage of drawing their funding from existing sources of federal revenue. This money comes from paycheck withholdings known as FICA, or the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, and taxes on self-employed workers. The money from workers' paychecks goes into the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, where managers invest the money and increase the value of the fund to pay out benefits to workers as they become disabled. As the fund grows over time it can support more workers and pay benefits without the risk of being depleted.