When it comes to advocacy programs for homeless people in Southern California, and elsewhere across the United States, it’s important to have an understanding of the two disability options available through the Social Security Administration. While many people are aware that there is financial assistance available to disabled people via Social Security, they understandably may be unaware that there are two primary Social Security disability options:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

When it comes to aiding and assisting homeless people, a notable percentage of the unhoused population in Southern California and elsewhere suffers from some type of disability. These individuals are afflicted with disabilities that likely qualify them for aid from either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI is a payroll tax-funded federal insurance program. SSDI is managed by the Social Security Administration. SSDI is designed to provide income supplements to people who are restricted in their ability to maintain gainful employment. In most cases, the affliction limiting employment is physical. With that said, there are certain types of psychological conditions that do limit a person’s ability to work and may qualify that individual for SSDI.

SSDI can be provided on a temporary or permanent basis. This depends on the nature of a person’s restrictions or limitations.

Unlike SSI, which is discussed in a moment, determining a person’s SSDI award of compensation doesn’t depend on income. In other words, a person at any income level can apply for SSDI.

The primary qualifications for SSDI are:

  • Has a physical or mental condition that prevents them from engaging in any “substantial gainful activity”
  • Has a condition expected to last at least 12 months or result in death, and
  • Is under the age of 65, and
  • Generally has accumulated 20 social security credits in the last 10 years prior to the onset of disability (normally four credits per full or partial year) with one additional credit being required for every year by which the worker’s age exceeds 42

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income or SSI is a federal income supplement program. It is funded by general tax revenues and now Social Security taxes. SSI is designed to assist three classes of people who have little or no income:

  • Older individuals
  • Blind people
  • Disabled people

SSI exists to provide cash assistance to permit people the ability to meet basic needs that include:

  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Food

As a consequence, in a notable number of cases, applying for SSI assistance can be of great assistance to homeless people.

In addition to either being over the age of 65, blind, or disabled, in order to qualify for SSI, a person must satisfy the following conditions. These requirements apply to a person whether they have a home or are homeless:

  • Has limited income
  • Has limited resources
  • Is a U.S. citizen, naturalized citizen of in a certain category of alien
  • Is a resident of one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Is not absent from the country for a full calendar month or for 30 consecutive days or more
  • Is not confined to an institution at government’s expense (including a prison or hospital)
  • Applied for any other cash benefits or payments for which he or she may be eligible (including pensions or other Social Security benefits
  • Provides the Social Security Administration permission to contact any financial institution to request financial records
  • Files an application for SSI assistance

SSI has a three-prong test to ascertain if a person is disabled for the purposes of obtaining these types of benefits. A disability:

  • Results in marked or severe functional limitations
  • Can be expected to result in death
  • Has or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months

Legal Assistance to Obtain SSDI or SSI

If a homeless person elects to apply for SSDI or SSI, that individual has the right to be assisted by legal counsel. Typically, an attorney who represents a client in an SSDI or SSI application case does so using what is known as a contingency fee agreement. In other words, the applicant owes a Social Security attorney nothing unless that applicant obtains benefits.

As a matter of routine, the attorney fee is a percentage of the initial lump sum payment that is made in a typical SSDI or SSI case. The Social Security Administration regulates the amount that can be charged in the way of attorney fees. In addition, an Administrative Law Judge with the Social Security Administration typically must approve the attorney fee in a case to ensure that it is fair, reasonable, and appropriate.

Hiring a paid lawyer is not the only option available to a homeless person. There are also nonprofit organizations that assist homeless people in pursuing SSDI or SSI.