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Home » Disability Questions » What is Social Security?

What is Social Security?

At its heart, Social Security is founded on a simple principle - you put money in when you work, and when you cannot work you take money out. We've all heard of Social Security and know that it provides retirement benefits. While the majority persons receiving Social Security payments receive retirement benefits, Social Security provides benefits in a variety of situations. Social Security provides benefits to disabled persons, spouses and dependent children of Social Security beneficiaries, widows, widowers, or dependent children of a deceased individual, and to other persons in various situations. In all, 45 million Americans receive some form of Social Security benefit.

Social Security is primarily funded through payroll taxes. The money you put into the Social Security system is not put into a personalized account with your name on it. Instead, the money you contribute is put into a massive trust for everyone. From this massive trust Social Security pays out all of its benefits.

On average, about 15 cents of every dollar contributed to Social Security pays benefits to disabled persons and their families. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the chief Social Security Disability benefit, pays benefits to individuals who become disabled and are unable to work for a year or more. Social Security helps disabled persons return to work, and will continue to pay disability benefits until he or she is able to work again on a regular basis.

Types of Social Security Disability Benefits

Social Security Disability benefits pay money to disabled individuals if the individual meets other qualifications. Overall, Social Security has five major benefits, each with different requirements. The first four types of Social Security Disability benefits described are based on an individual’s Social Security earnings record and work history, and not the wealth or poverty of the individual. The first type of Social Security Disability benefit is Social Security Disability Insurance, commonly referred to as "SSDI." In most cases SSDI is available to individuals who become disabled but have worked five out of the last 10 years. If you are under 31 years of age, however, the rules are a little different because you have not been working for very long. The next two types are Disabled Widow's and Widower's Benefits. Like SSDI, to qualify for Disabled Widow's and Widower's Benefits an individual must work an appropriate amount of time under Social Security. Further, to qualify individuals must also be at least 50 years of age and become disabled within a certain amount of time after the death of their husband or wife. Fourth, Disabled Adult Child Benefits are available to children who become disabled before age 22, if the child's parents are deceased or drawing Social Security disability or retirement benefits. Again, SSDI, Disabled Widow's or Widower's Benefits and Disabled Adult Child Benefits are based on the Social Security earnings record and not the individual's wealth.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI), however, is different than the above-mentioned benefit types. Importantly, SSI requires that the claimant be poor and does not take into account an individual’s work history or earnings record. SSI is available for disabled children and adults, though SSI is determined differently for both groups.

How Hard is it to Get Benefits?

It is not easy to get Social Security disability benefits. You must prove that you have a disability that not only lasts for at least one year but that also renders you unable to do the work you were previously able to do or any other work that the Social Security Administration suggests you are able to do.