Disability Benefits

Last updated: August 2021

When you have a long-term (chronic) medical condition, there may be times when you cannot work. This can seriously impact your and your family’s finances. However, there is help available from the federal government and private insurance companies. These benefits can help you supplement your earnings until you can go back to work.

What is the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees qualified workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. During leave, workers keep their job and health benefits. FMLA generally covers:1

  • Public agencies
  • Public and private elementary, middle, and high schools
  • Companies with 50 or more employees

As it relates to chronic conditions, these employers must offer qualified workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year to:1

  • Care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • Take medical leave when the worker cannot work due to a serious health condition

You can only take leave if you have worked for your employer for at least 1 year or 1,250 hours over the past year.1

What is short-term and long-term disability insurance?

This type of insurance pays part of your income when you cannot work because of an illness or injury. You may be able to buy disability insurance through your employer. Or you can buy it on your own. There are 2 types of policies:2

  • Short-term policies offer benefits for a few months up to 1 year.
  • Long-term policies pay for a few years, or until you fully recover from the disability.

If you are paying out of pocket for a policy, be sure to compare insurance companies and find out:2

  • How the company defines a disability
  • When benefits start
  • How long they continue
  • How much money the policy pays in the event of an illness or injury

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI)?

The federal government also has programs that pay benefits to people with disabilities:2-4

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to people who are disabled. It also pays benefits to certain family members, like a spouse, a former spouse, and children. To qualify, you must work long enough within a certain period of time and pay Social Security taxes on your income.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for adults and children with disabilities who have little to no income or resources. People 65 and older may also qualify if they meet income conditions. SSI provides monthly payments for food, clothing, and shelter.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages both programs. For adults, it defines a disability as:2

  • An inability to work
  • An impairment that is expected to last for 12 months or more or end in death
  • A condition that appears on a list of disabling medical conditions

Disability in children means:2

  • A physical or mental disability that causes obvious, severe constraints on function
  • An impairment that is expected to last for 12 months or more or end in death

You or your family members can only get benefits under SSDI or SSI if you have a full or long-term disability.

Can I go back to work and still get SSI or SSDI benefits?

You can earn a limited income and still receive SSI and SSDI benefits. Under the SSI program, you can make $65 a month without losing benefits. If you earn more, the SSA will cut back your benefits by $1 for every $2 you make.5

With SSDI, you can also go back to work without losing your benefits. The SSA says you must earn less than a “substantial” amount, which may change from year to year. In 2021, the amount is $1,310 or less per month.5

For more information and help, check-out:
Managing Healthcare Expenses
Workplace Considerations
Applying for SSDI
General Health Resources

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