Disability Benefits: One Question Leads to Another

By Tom Margenau

October 17, 2018 7 min read

Q: I don't understand. I was getting Social Security disability benefits. But I found a job that I could do. It paid me not much more than minimum wage. But because I made about $18,000 last year, I ended up losing my disability. Yet I just read a story about someone who won $50,000 in our state lottery. This person was getting disability benefits, and she kept those benefits. I made $18,000 and lost my checks. What's wrong with this picture?

A: What's wrong is that you don't understand what Social Security disability benefits are meant to do or how they work.

You don't get disability benefits because you have some kind of physical or mental impairment. You get disability benefits because you have a disabling condition that keeps you from working. In other words, the inability to work is the key to qualifying for benefits. So, if you can go back to work, especially full-time as you did, you simply do not meet the legal definition of disability.

On the other hand, the woman in your town who won the lottery did not work. She just got lucky by buying the right lottery ticket. She could have won a million dollars, and it does not change the fact that she is still disabled and eligible for benefits. My answer to the next question will explain this in more detail.

Q: I live in a fairly affluent part of town. I was absolutely shocked to learn that a lady down the block is getting Social Security disability. How can that be? I mean, she has a big house, nice cars, a swimming pool and other luxuries. I thought you had to be poor to get disability.

A: I'm afraid you thought wrong. You don't have to be poor to get Social Security disability. You have to be disabled. Or to be a little more precise, you have to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain period of time, and you have to have a condition that is severe enough to keep you from working any longer or a condition that is considered terminal.

Maybe this neighbor of yours is dying of cancer. Maybe she has severe heart problems. Who knows? But the point is, she has been declared disabled by an agency (the Social Security Administration) that is known for having some of the strictest disability eligibility criteria around.

The fact that she has money isn't an issue. Social Security disability is NOT a welfare program. If Bill Gates became disabled tomorrow, he could qualify for Social Security disability benefits. And to clarify this further, please read the answer to the next question.

Q: I am familiar with someone getting SSDI. Yet, I know he doesn't need it. He and his wife have money. They have a nice house. Don't you have to be poor to get SSI?

A: Yes, you have to be poor to get SSI. But SSI isn't the same as SSDI. Let me sort out all this alphabet mess for you and my other readers.

Social Security disability benefits are sometimes known by the acronym, SSDI. That stands for Social Security disability insurance. And as explained above, SSDI is NOT a welfare program. It's an earned benefit that goes to rich and poor alike, as long as they are disabled.

But SSDI should not be confused with SSI. That stands for Supplemental Security Income. And SSI is a welfare program. Poor people who are over 65, or poor people who have a disability, might qualify for a small monthly stipend from SSI.

And now let's add one more noodle to this alphabet soup of acronyms. The disability portion of the SSI program is oftentimes referred to as SSID. That stands for Supplemental Security Income disability. So I'm sure you can see why people often confuse the SSDI program with the SSID program.

And to clarify one more reason for the confusion, continue reading.

Q: No wonder Social Security is going broke. I just heard there are 7 million people getting SSI disability benefits, and not one of them has ever paid a dime in Social Security taxes!

A: There might be 7 million people getting SSI disability benefits. But as I explained above, SSI is NOT a Social Security benefit. It's an entirely separate welfare program. But what I didn't explain is that SSI is funded out of general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes. The program just happens to be managed by the Social Security Administration. And the Social Security trust funds are even reimbursed from the general funds for the administrative expenses of running the program.

And finally, one more bit of clarification about Social Security disability benefits will be provided in the answer to the last question.

Q: I'm not going to name names, but I know a deadbeat in my neighborhood who is ripping off Social Security. He gets a disability check, but there is nothing wrong with the guy. He works in his yard. He runs errands. I've even seen him leave the house with golf clubs! Kick bums like this off the program and Social Security won't need any other reforms!

A: If I had a nickel for every guy who told me he knows a friend, a neighbor, a brother-in-law, etc., who is cheating the system, I could stop writing this column tomorrow and move to a villa in the south of France!

I'm not sure if it's jealousy, pettiness or a misplaced sense of righteousness. But I am sure, as I mentioned earlier, that SSA runs one of the strictest disability programs in the country. You really have to be severely disabled to qualify for benefits. (And, yes, you still could be able to do yard work or even play golf depending on the kind of disability you have.)

You said, "I'm not going to name names." And that's the problem. For decades, I've been telling people like you to report instances of supposed fraud. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov, and under the "Contact Us" link, click on "Report Fraud." You can do so anonymously. But I've learned over the years that very few people report it. They like to complain, but they don't like to do anything about it.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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