According to the CDC, 26% of adults in the United States have some type of disability. Of these people, 1 in 3 adults aged 18-44 do not have a usual health care provider and/ or have an unmet health care need because of cost. Financial hardship is a reality for many disabled Americans. However, there are benefits available to people with disabilities.
Many of these benefits go unclaimed each year. We feel this is largely due to inadequate information regarding what benefits are available and how to claim them. Use this guide to make sure you are receiving the financial support you are entitled to.
Social Security Benefits
The US Department of Social Security offers disability benefits. You can apply for these benefits online if you:
- Are 18+,
- Are not currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security record
- Are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death
- Have not been denied disability benefits in the last 60 days.
You can use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST) to determine which benefits you qualify for. This is a useful tool as it does not ask for your name/ Social Security details meaning it is completely anonymous to use. This does mean that the information may not be 100% accurate to your exact situation but it acts as a rough guide. The tool is simple to use and it will generally take around 10 minutes to answer all the questions and generate the results.
You can also use the Social Security Benefit Calculator to assess what you may be entitled to claim.
When applying for disability benefits you will need to provide information about yourself, your medical condition and your work. Your application should include:
- Your Social Security number
- Your birth/ baptismal certificate
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals and clinics that took care of you, and dates of your visits
- Names and dosages of all the medicine you take
- Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers
- Laboratory and test results
- A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did
- A copy of your most recent W-2 Form/ federal tax returns for the past year
You may also need to provide documents to show that you are eligible for the benefits such as proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, medical evidence and proof of other benefits you received.
You can apply for disability benefits online, in person at your local Social Security office (by appointment) or by phone (1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. If you are deaf or hard of hearing the TTY number is 1-800-325-0778).
It is important to note that processing an application for disability benefits can take 3-5 months. If your claim is approved, you will receive a letter informing you of this, the amount of your monthly benefit and the effective date. After you’ve received disability benefits for two years you will get Medicare coverage automatically.
There are two disability benefits programs available from Social Security, these are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
- SSDI – this will pay an amount to yourself or your family based on previous contributions through tax (unless the disability occurred before the age of 22). The amount you receive depends on what your lifetime earnings were up to the point of your disability.
- SSI – this is for people who are unable to work due to severe illness or a debilitating physical disability. If you claim SSI you can return to work without losing this assistance by making use of one of the work incentive schemes outlined below.
If you are receiving Social Security Disability Benefits and you are looking for work there are some work incentives that allow you to test your ability to work while still receiving monthly benefits. These incentives include:
- Trial Work Period – test your ability to work for at least 9 months while still receiving full Social Security Benefits.
- Extended Period of Eligibility – after the trial work period, you have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings aren’t “substantial”. In 2020, earnings over $1,260 ($2,110 if you’re blind) are considered to be substantial.
- Expedited Reinstatement – if your benefits stop due to substantial earnings, you have 5 years to restart the benefits (without filing a new application) if you are unable to continue working because of your condition.
- Continuation of Medicare – your free Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least 93 months after the nine-month trial period (if your Social Security benefits stop due to your earnings).
- Work Expenses – if you work and have a disability, work expenses that are related to your disability may be deducted from your monthly earnings.
This gives disability beneficiaries help with training and other services they need to go to work at no cost. This program is eligible to most disability beneficiaries and they can select an approved provider of their choice who offers the kind of services needed.
This is a tax-advantaged saving account for people with disabilities. This allows you to save funds and can be contributed to by the account owners, friends and family. To have an ABLE account you must:
- Be eligible for SSI based on disability or blindness that began before age 26; or
- Be entitled to disability insurance benefits, childhood disability benefits, disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits, based on disability or blindness that occurred before age 26; or
- Have a certification that disability or blindness occurred before age 26.
You can use the money in this account to pay for certain qualified disability expenses e.g. education, housing, transportation, employment training.
According to Feeding America, in counties with high food insecurity 1/5 people have a disability. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an example of a food budget for families in need. This program is delivered using electronic debit cards which can be used to buy essential groceries. Another program that may help is the Mobile Food Pantry Program which offers food supplies to those who find it difficult to get to a regular food bank. Not all food banks offer this program but it is worth checking with your local food bank if this is available in your area.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
The IRS provides a range of information related to disability and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Disability retirement benefits are considered earned income until you reach minimum retirement age. After this point, the benefits are not considered as earned income and cannot be used to claim Earned Income Tax Credit. You may qualify for credit if you or your spouse (if filing a joint return) have earned other income.
To get EITC you need to file a tax return. Special assistance is available for people with disabilities and there is also a Free File program that makes it easy to prepare and file for federal income tax.
Disability Compensation for Veterans
If you were disabled during military service, you may be entitled to a number of benefits. A list of benefits and related information can be found here. You can apply for disability compensation, education, training, health care, insurance, insurance and burial benefits online.
Housing Grants are also available to help disabled military veterans buy or adapt a home. These are designed to promote independent living and are available to veterans receiving disability benefits (if the disability is service-connected). There are two types of housing grant available:
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH)
This is for someone looking to buy, build or change their permanent home. You need to own (or will own) the home and have a qualifying service-connected disability to be eligible.
Qualifying service-connected disabilities include the loss or loss of use of more than one limb, the loss or loss of use of a lower leg along with the residuals of an organic disease or injury, blinding in both eyes along with the loss or loss of use of a leg, certain severe burns and the loss, or loss of use, of one lower extremity after September 11, 2001, which makes it so you can’t balance or walk without the help of braces, crutches, canes or a wheelchair.
This grant offers up to $90,364.
Special Home Adaptation (SHA)
This grant is for people looking to buy, build or change their permanent home. You or a family member need to own (or will own) the home and you need to have a qualifying service-connected disability.
Qualifying service-connected disabilities for SHA include blindness in both eyes, the loss or loss of use of both hands, certain severe burns and certain respiratory/ breathing injuries.
This grant offers up to $18,074.
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, there are a number of grants available for persons with a disability.
- gov can be used to search for current available grants. This lets you search for grants using keywords, opportunity number or CFDA and will show you which grants are available, when they were posted and when they close. This is a very handy tool that is simple to use and can be helpful in finding appropriate grant support.
- Financial Assistance and Support Services for People with Disabilities – this list on USA.gov discusses several programs available to support people with disabilities. This includes resources to help with medical bills, housing, vehicle modification, service animals, ABLE saving account and tax.
Some charities offer grants for people with disabilities too. Here are a few examples that may be worth investigating (this list notes just a few of many grants available):
Kessler Foundation – this foundation focuses on giving grants to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. They offer three grant programs to address employment and to improve quality of life. You can apply for signature employment grants, community employment grants and special initiative grants.
Elderly or Disabled – this organization aims to financially help low income elderly or disabled individuals throughout the United States.
Modest Needs – Modest Needs offer grants to help individuals and families be self-sufficient. The average grant is between $750 – $1,250 but depends on a number of factors such as your household’s income. This is a great option if you find yourself in a temporary crisis and need short-term assistance.
Chanda Plan Foundation – the Chanda Plan Foundation works to deliver and advocate for integrative therapy, primary care and other complementary services to improve health and reduce healthcare costs for people with physical disabilities.
High Fives Foundation – offers grants through The Empowerment Fund. There are nine funding categories including insurance, living expenses, health, travel, adaptive equipment, winter equipment, High Fives Healing Network and “Stoke” (positive energy, outlook and attitude).
Kelly Brush Foundation – this is an active fund that provides grants for individuals with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury.
National Council on Disability (NCD) – NCD is an independent federal agency that is committed to disability policy leadership. They provide a range of resources on civil rights, education, employment, financial assistance, health care and more.
National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) – NDRN helps fight for the rights of people with disabilities.
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)- OSERS works to improve early childhood, educational and employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
State Special Education agencies – provides information about teaching, family and community engagement and early learning.
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity – provides information on federal laws that help promote equal housing opportunity for individuals with disabilities.
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped – free braille and talking book library service.
National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) – focuses on helping people with disabilities to achieve health benefits through increased participation in physical and social activities.
APSE – helps advance employment equity for people with disabilities.
Action Fund – provides programs and services to the blind and deafblind (mostly for free).
Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) – this is a free hub that includes online training, education and resources to help employers hire, retain and advance qualified employees with disabilities.
Source America – brings employment opportunities for professionals with disabilities.