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Social Security Disability and SSI – Frequently Asked Questions

What types of disability benefits are available from the federal government?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) runs 2 different programs that provide benefits based on disability or blindness: 1) the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD or SSDI) program, and 2) the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

SSD is a disability insurance program under the Social Security Act. SSD provides benefits to disabled or blind persons who have paid taxes into the Social Security Trust Fund. When you see deductions you’re your paycheck for FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act), those are your Social Security taxes. Working and paying taxes for a certain amount of time makes a worker "insured" for disability benefits in the Social Security System. Title II of the Social Security Act authorizes SSD benefits. Your children may also be eligible for benefits from your earnings record.

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

SSI is an indigent program. It is for disabled and elderly people who have not paid enough in taxes into the Social Security system to be insured. The SSI program makes cash assistance payments to aged, blind, and disabled persons (including children) who have limited income and resources. The Federal Government funds SSI from general tax revenues. Some states (not Florida) pay a supplemental benefit to persons in addition to their Federal benefits. Title XVI of the Social Security Act authorizes SSI benefits.

Can I get both SSD and SSI?

Yes, if your earnings are not sufficient enough to make your SSD payment higher than a certain amount and you have limited resources, you may also get SSI. Most people get one or the other. When a person is eligible for disability benefits under both the SSD and SSI programs, Social Security calls them “concurrent.”

Should I apply for Social Security Disability benefits?

If your answers match the answers to these questions, you should apply for Social Security Disability:

  • Does a mental or physical problem keep you from working? Yes.
  • Has that mental or physical problem kept you out of work for 12 months (or do you think you will be unable to work for at least 12 months)? Yes.
  • Are you able to do any of the jobs you have done in the last 15 years? No.
  • Are you able to do any full-time work? No.

Keep in mind that a bad economy or getting laid off are not enough. You have to show that your mental or physical problems are what are keeping you from working.

Will one of your disability attorneys help me apply for Social Security disability benefits?

Yes. You may have heard that a lot of Florida Social Security Disability firms will not help you apply for benefits. Not our firm. If you sign up as a client with our firm, one of our disability attorneys will help you apply online if you feel you need help. We do this in our St. Petersburg office, and it takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

Will you fill out ALL of my Social Security forms?

No. While we complete many of your forms for you and will help you complete others, there are several that you will need to fill out by yourself. The reason for this is that you are the only person that has the answers to some of Social Security's questions.

How many months of back pay (retroactive benefits) will I get if I win my Social Security Disability or SSI claim?

You can only get 12 months of retroactive Social Security Disability benefits before the month you apply. Social Security's Regulations limit you to no more than 12 months of back of back benefits. 20 C.F.R. §404.135 (a)(4) is the federal regulation that covers this. That regulation also explains that Social Security Disability has a 5 (five) month waiting period. From the month you became disabled, you have to wait 5 months before benefits begin. You can get 12 full months of back benefits, if you can prove you were disabled 17 months before the day you applied, that is the 5 month waiting period plus the full 12 months of past due benefits. SSI is different. If you win your SSI claim, your first month of entitlement to benefits is the month after you apply.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

"Substantial Gainful Activity" - known as "SGA" - is a phrase used by Social Security to describe a certain level of work. It is defined by how much money a person earns in a month and the kind of work they are doing. The Social Security Administration uses SGA as one of the factors it relies upon to determine if a person is eligible for disability benefits.

If a person is receiving Social Security Disability benefits, SSA looks at SGA to decide if the person continues to be eligible after they return to work and complete a Trial Work Period (see FAQ – What is a Trial Work Period?).

How much money can you earn before you are engaging in SGA? In 2011, the Substantial Gainful Activity amount for persons with disabilities other than blindness, is $1,000 per month.

What kind of work is "Substantial"? Substantial work involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. It can be full-time or part-time. What does "Gainful" mean? Generally, it means work that you can get paid to do, even if you don't get paid. However, Social Security usually looks at earnings to decide if a person's work activity is SGA.

How much can a person earn in 2011 before Social Security says they are engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity?

In 2011, the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount for people with disabilities other than blindness, is $1,000 per month . This is the same amount as 2010. That means that Social Security will automatically find that a person who is not blind is working at the SGA level if they are earning $1,000 per month or more. It is higher if a person is blind. For blind persons, the SGA amount is $1,640 per month in 2011.

Why should I hire an attorney to handle my Social Security Disability case?

There are several reasons you want to hire a Florida Social Security Disability Attorney:

  • Social Security’s own statistics show that claimants with lawyers win more often than those who do not have an attorney.
  • An experienced Social Security Disability benefits attorney knows what has to be proven to win disability benefit claims.
  • An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer knows what type of things Administrative Law judges look for when they conduct hearings on SSD and SSI cases.
  • A Florida SSD and SSI attorney may be more familiar with the ALJs in Florida hearing offices located in Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Tallahassee.
  • A disability attorney will likely be familiar with the procedures at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) – the hearing office.
  • A Social Security attorney can help create the evidence to win your case. Without an attorney, you are relying on your doctors to write down the necessary information, and they may not do that without an experienced disability attorney asking them the right questions.
  • Without preparation from a knowledgeable attorney, you may not talk about important facts that could help you win your claim. In our law firm, all of our clients meet with our attorneys before going to court to discuss the kind of questions that may be asked at the hearing.

How much will I get paid if I win my Social Security Disability case?

This depends on how much income you reported on your IRS Form 1040 tax form for your work earnings in the past. You can get a printout from Social Security called a Social Security Statement which will give you the answer to this question. For a good step-by-step explanation of how to do this, see my blog post at http://tampabaydisabilityattorney.com/2012/05/17/how-much-does-social-security-disability-pay-each-month/.

How to Choose a Social Security Disability Lawyer in Florida?

There are many attorneys that handle Social Security Disability in Florida. How do you choose between them? The lawyer closest to you is not always the best fit for you. Here are some pointers to help you hire the right attorney for you:

  • Ask how many Social Security Disability and SSI cases the attorney has handled.
  • Florida Social Security Disability attorneys may work out of several hearing offices. Ask the attorney how many hearing offices they cover. It is ok if your attorney covers the entire state, just make sure they are familiar with the Administrative Law Judges in your area.
  • Make sure they will represent you on a contingency fee – 25% fees plus costs is standard.
  • Ask how often they lecture on Social Security Disability and SSI. It is one thing to handle cases, but an attorney that is asked to teach other lawyers about Social Security has the respect of their peers.
  • Ask how often they go to continuing education courses on Social Security Disability. There is always something new to learn.
  • Ask how many Social Security legal organizations they belong to. Do they hold offices in those organizations (again, showing the respect of their peers)?
  • If you also have a Short Term or Long Term Disability Insurance or an ERISA Disability claim, ask if they have experience with those types of cases. You want a lawyer that will not screw up your other disability cases, and someone that can help you with your other claims if they are denied.
  • If you have a VA service-connected disability compensation case, ask if the attorney has experience with those types of cases.
  • What is their policy on phone calls and meetings with their clients? If you hire them, can you get an appointment in a reasonable amount of time if you need to talk with them?
  • Are they AV rated by martindale.com? Are they 10.0/Superb rated by Avvo.com?

How can I tell if I am hiring an ethical Social Security Disability Attorney in Florida?

It is not that hard to learn about the ethics of attorneys in Florida. You just need to know where to look.

A very good resource is Martindale.com. Martindale-Hubbell has collecting peer review ratings on lawyers for decades. They have a system which uses letters to designate the highest skilled attorneys and those with high ethical standards. A Martindale rating of "AV," shows the attorney has the highest skill in their area of practice and the highest ethical standards. These ratings come from peer reviews done with other lawyers and judges.

The Florida Bar website has an attorney search feature that will allow you enter an attorney's name, and you will see their contact information, court admissions, and other data displayed. It includes whether the attorney has ever been disciplined by the Florida Bar for unethical conduct Other websites like Avvo.com give you an attorney's discipline history, biographical and firm information, as well as peer reviews and consumers reviews. Lawyers.com gives you similar information.

At the end of the day, if you are searching for a Social Security Disability lawyer in Florida, look for one that is highly rated by the peers and consumers. If they have an "AV" rating from Martindale.com and a 10.0 rating on Avvo.com, that is a good starting point for you. Interview the lawyer. Ask hard questions, and make them answer. You want talent to win your case, but you also want someone that you would call a friend. Someone you can respect and call "my attorney."

Do I have to pay attorney fees if I lose?

No, not if you hire us on a contingency fee contract. See “How much do you charge?” below.

How much do you charge? How do the Florida Social Security Disability attorneys of Tucker & Ludin get paid?

There are 2 ways that SSD & SSI attorneys can get paid: 1) contingency fee or 2) fee petition. Our firm usually uses the contingency fee method. We charge a 25% contingency fee on any back benefits we help you recover. With a contingency fee, if you don’t win, we don’t get paid.

A fee petition typically will only be used if there was another attorney involved in your case before you hired our firm. Under the fee petition method, you are charged for our time in your case, and it can be more than the 25% contingency fee.

Keep in mind that either way, Social Security regulates and calculates any fees we charge. Under our 25% fee, the government must approve our fee contract, and then Social Security calculates the fees from your past due benefits.

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