Can I get Social Security disability benefits if I am disabled but have never worked?

The Social Security Administration runs two programs that provide disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). SSDI provides benefits to: (1) disabled workers who worked for five out of the last 10 years, called “insured workers” by the Social Security Administration; (2) the disabled children of insured workers, as long as the children became disabled before they reached the age of 22; and (3) the disabled surviving spouses of deceased insured workers. SSI pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have little or no income, or other financial resources; it also provides benefits to adults without disabilities who are over 65 and whose financial means are under certain limits.

Whether someone with a disability who has never worked can receive Social Security disability benefits depends upon the circumstances. For someone who has never worked and became disabled after reaching age 22, SSDI benefits would not be available. SSDI benefits could be available, however, to either a disabled child of an insured worker, as long as the child became disabled before reaching age 22; or, to the disabled surviving spouse of a deceased insured worker. Neither disabled children, nor disabled surviving spouses, have to satisfy the SSDI work requirement on their own.

SSI benefits, on the other hand, could be available to someone who has never worked, regardless of age. The reason that SSI could be available to someone ineligible for SSDI is that eligibility for SSI is based only on disability and financial means. Therefore, someone with a disability who has never worked can qualify for SSI benefits.

In order to qualify for either program, applicants must prove that they have a “disability” under the Social Security Administration’s rules (with the exception of those age 65 or over who apply for SSI benefits). With respect to adults, a “disability” is a serious medical condition that has lasted (or will last) for at least one year, and prevents someone from being gainfully employed. With respect to children, a “disability” is a serious medical condition that causes severe functional limitations and can either be expected to cause death, or be expected to last for at least one year.

Qualifying for either program can be difficult. The Social Security Administration often finds that applicants are not disabled, and proving a disability would be critical for someone who has never worked and would only be eligible for SSI benefits. If you are disabled and have never worked, then you should speak with an attorney who understands the Social Security Administration’s disability rules and can help you understand how to qualify.  Complete our free online consultation form today.