At minimum, applicants for disability benefits must demonstrate that they are unable to perform the work they performed in the last 15 years that was performed at the “substantial gainful activity” level. But what if someone has not performed any work at the substantial gainful activity level (currently $1180 per month for non-blind individuals) within the last 15 years? Can such an individual still receive disability benefits?
The short answer is yes. An individual without an established work history may still be eligible for benefits, but only SSI benefits (as opposed to SSDI benefits).
There are two types of benefits that an individual can receive for their disabilities from Social Security. Both types require the same burden of proof. SSDI benefits are only available to individuals that have earned a certain amount of quarterly credits by working and paying into Social Security through their FICA withholdings. On the other hand, SSI is available for individuals regardless of their work history as long as other non-medical criteria are met. Specifically, you must have under $2,000. in countable assets as an individual, or less than $3,000 as a couple if you are married.
Without a work history, you will not have any past work that you must show you are unable to perform. Instead, your case will revolve around whether or not there would be any work existing in significant numbers in the national economy that you can perform. If you are under 50 years old, you must generally demonstrate that you are unable to do any type of work, at least on a full-time basis, because of your disability(ies). At 50 years of age and again at 55 years of age, the standard for proving disability becomes more lax. Generally, if you are between 50 and 55 years of age and do not have any past work, you can be found disabled even if a Social Security evaluator or judge thinks you could still manage to perform “sedentary” (think seated with very little lifting) work. At 55 years of age and up, even if a judge or evaluator thinks you can still perform “light” work (jobs typically involving standing and/or lifting up to 20 lbs. occasionally) you can still be found disabled.
If you are considering filing an application for disability benefits or have already filed an application on your own, it is always a good idea to consider working with a law firm specializing in disability claims. Experienced attorneys and staff can maximize your chances of obtaining benefits.