News reports about prospective changes in Social Security almost exclusively focus on adjustments to retirement benefits and their impact on aging workers. But Social Security disability and survivors’ benefits programs are also multi-billion-dollar, tax-supported programs that make monthly payments to millions of Americans.
Why Social Security Disability and Survivor Benefits Matter
Many people are unaware of these programs and have little or no idea of how those programs work. It’s understandable. Until you need Social Security disability benefits, or you lose a spouse or parent and qualify for survivors’ benefits, you may have little reason to think about these complex government programs.
However, if you are injured or become ill and cannot work, disability benefits can make a huge difference for you and your family. In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age. The lifetime value of Social Security survivors’ benefits a love one has earned may, in some cases, be more than the value of a life insurance policy.
Here’s what you should know about Social Security disability and survivors’ benefits programs:
Do You Qualify for SSDI Benefits Payments?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program for workers who have developed an incapacitating disability. In addition to having an eligible disability, you must have previously worked long enough — 10 years, typically, with allowances for younger workers — and paid enough Social Security tax to accrue a benefit. Once you have been approved for benefits, the amount of your monthly check would be based on your average lifetime earnings.
If you receive SSDI benefits, your family members may qualify for benefits, too. Family members’ benefits will also be based on your earnings. Those eligible are:
Your spouse if:
- He or she is age 62 or older; or
- Any age and caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled.
Your child if unmarried and:
- Younger than age 18 (or younger than age 19 if still in high school), including an adopted child or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild; or
- Age 18 or older if he or she has a disability which meets SSA guidelines and started before the child turned age 22.
A divorced spouse may qualify for benefits based on your earnings if he or she is at least age 62, not currently married and was married to you for at least 10 years.
SSDI benefits are modest payments, according to the SSA. They are designed to allow people to meet their basic needs and their families’ basic needs. Most SSDI recipients receive between $700 and $1,700 per month (the average for 2018 is $1,197, or $14,364 a year). After two years of receiving SSDI benefits, you automatically get Medicare coverage, regardless of age.
The SSA also provides work incentives which allow you to see whether you can return to work. The incentives permit you to receive monthly Social Security disability benefits as you do so. You can also get money to help with education, rehabilitation and/or training you may need to go back to work.
Do You Qualify as a Survivor on Someone Else’s Social Security Record?
When a person dies, the person’s spouse and underage children typically qualify for Social Security survivors’ benefits. The deceased loved one must have worked long enough and paid enough taxes to be vested in Social Security. Family members who are likely to qualify for survivors’ benefits include:
The spouse if:
- He or she is age 60 or older (or 50 if disabled); or
- Any age if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled.
Again, under some circumstances, a divorced spouse may qualify for these benefits.
The child if unmarried and:
- Age 18 or younger (or age 19 if still in high school); or
- Age 18 or older if he or she has a disability that meets SSA guidelines, and the disability started before he or she turned age 22.
As with disability benefits, a stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child may qualify for survivors’ benefits under some circumstances.
The parents if:
- Age 62 or older if they were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support.
Upon being notified of an eligible worker’s death, the SSA sends a one-time payment of $255 to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the deceased. If there was no spouse, a child may get this payment. If the deceased and the spouse were living apart, the spouse may still qualify for this benefit under certain circumstances.
Usually, a funeral home reports a person’s death to the SSA. The home will ask for the deceased’s Social Security number for this purpose. If you are dealing with a death, and you are not asked by the funeral home, you should provide this information and ask them to report the death to the SSA.
The amount of monthly survivors’ benefits depends on:
- How much the deceased’s monthly Social Security retirement benefit would have been at full retirement age
- Your relationship to the deceased
- How many survivors will be drawing benefits.
Each survivor’s benefit is a percentage of the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount, and it depends on the survivor’s age and relationship. For instance:
- A widow or widower at full retirement age or older generally gets 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit.
- A widow or widower age 60 or older but not at full retirement age gets about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit.
- A widow or widower of any age with a child younger than age 16 gets at least 75 percent of the worker’s benefit.
- An eligible child gets 75 percent of the worker’s benefit.
The maximum amount of monthly benefits that the SSA will pay on a single worker’s record is between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased worker’s full retirement benefit. If there are multiple survivors, and the benefit to all exceeds the maximum, each recipient’s benefit will be reduced proportionally.
As of December 2017, the average monthly survivors’ benefit payment was $1,151.71, or more than $13,820 a year. The average paid to nondisabled widows and widowers was $1,338.48, or more than $16,000 a year. In December 2017, about 81 percent of survivor beneficiaries were female (including female children) and 32 percent were children, according to the Congressional Research Service.
We’ll Help You Pursue the Maximum Social Security Disability Benefit
Receiving certain other benefits, such as workers’ compensation or a retirement or disability pension which Social Security does not cover can reduce your Social Security disability or survivors’ benefits. If you believe you are eligible for either of these benefits, or if you believe that you are not receiving the amount which you should receive, it will benefit you to discuss your claim and/or benefit with a knowledgeable attorney.
At Heller, Maas, Moro & Magill Co., LPA, we help residents in the Mahoning Valley and surrounding communities in northeastern Ohio to pursue all federal disability benefits which they are entitled to receive under the law. We will not accept payment for our work unless we secure benefits for you. Contact us today and learn more in a free consultation about why Social Security disability and survivors’ benefits matter and how we can assist you.
Robert L. Heller has practiced law in Ohio for nearly 40 years, devoting his entire career to helping disabled people in the Mahoning Valley to pursue needed benefits. A native of Warren, Ohio, Robert earned his undergraduate degree from Miami University of Ohio and his law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law. He also studied public administration at American University in Washington, D.C. He is admitted to practice in Ohio state courts, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals as well as a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives (NOSSCR).