AUSTIN EDITION col Giving overview of disability program
July marks the 13th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And although there is no direct correlation between the provisions of that legislation and the Social Security program, there is no doubt that many people who derive benefits from ADA also receive Social Security disability benefits. So this would be a good time to provide an overview of the Social Security disability program.
Disability coverage was added to the Social Security Act in 1956. The benefits are funded by a portion of the Social Security payroll tax. Out of every dollar you pay, about 12 cents is funneled into the trust fund used to finance disability.
As with Social Security retirement benefits, you must be insured to qualify for disability benefits. You are insured if you worked and earned enough credits. Currently, you get one credit for each $890 you earn, not to exceed four credits per year. But, unlike the simple rules for the retirement program that essentially say you are insured once you earn 40 credits, the disability provisions are a little more complex. Generally, the younger you are, the fewer credits you'll need. You can check your Social Security statement to see if you're insured or get more information at www.socialsecurity.gov.
The definition of disability in Social Security law is generally considered a strict one. You may be considered disabled if you cannot do work you did before and you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical conditions. We consider your medical conditions and your age, education, past work experience and any job-related skills you may have. Your disability also must last or be expected to last for at least a year or to result in death. While some programs pay benefits for partial disability or for short-term disability, Social Security does not. The law assumes that workers have access to other kinds of benefits and support, such as worker's compensation or insurance, during periods of short-term disabilities.
Because of the legal definition of disability, it is important that you tell us about all of your medical conditions and about how they affect your ability to work or function in everyday life. It is equally important to provide us with the names and addresses of doctors, hospitals, clinics and laboratories where you received treatment or tests for your disability. We need to get a copy of your medical records to help us make a decision.
If you provide us with all the information we need, you should get a decision in two to four months. If your claim is approved, your benefit amount will depend on your past earnings. A simple rule of thumb is that the more money you made while working, the higher your Social Security disability benefit. However, because of the formula used, people who earn lower wages receive a higher percentage of their earnings. Many times, we also can pay benefits to your spouse and minor children. In 2003, the average Social Security disability benefit to a disabled person with a spouse and one minor child is $1,395 per month.
Gerald Nelson is the Social Security district manager in Austin.