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Social Security benefits vary with disabilities

LAST UPDATED: 11:35 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Question: How much does Social Security pay on average per month to people who qualify for disability benefits?

Answer: There are two different disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. To get Social Security Disability Insurance, a disabled person must have worked enough work quarters. The amount of Social Security Disability Insurance depends on the amount of money he or she contributed to Social Security system when he or she worked.

Supplemental Security Income does not require a person to have work history. The disabled person must generally have limited assets ($2,000 for a single person and $3,000 for a couple) and limited income. The maximum amount of Supplemental Security Income is $674 for a single person and $1,011 for a couple.


Connie Liu

» Job: Staff attorney, 5 years, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii

» Education: 2006 William S. Richardson School of Law graduate

» Contact: Legal Aid hotline, 536-4302, 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday


Q: What is the disability criteria?

A: Social Security uses a five-step process to determine if a person is disabled. First, Social Security determines if the person is working at the substantial gainful activity level, or SGA. SGA limits earnings to $1,640 for blind individuals and $1,000 for all other individuals. Second, Social Security determines if the person's conditions are severe enough to last 12 months or result in death. Third, Social Security determines if the person's conditions meet a listing, which is a specific description of an illness compiled in the Social Security regulations. If a person meets a listing, the person is found disabled. If not, Social Security proceeds to step four to determine if the person can go back to past work. If the person can, he or she would be found not disabled. If the person cannot return to past work, Social Security proceeds to step five to determine if the person can do other types of work. If the person cannot do other types of work, the person is found disabled.

Q: What happens if I'm denied benefits?

A: A person has the right to appeal the decision within 60 days from the date of the denial notice. The first level of appeal is the request for reconsideration, a paper review by a different adjudicator. The second level of appeal is a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing is informal and does not require an attorney. The third level of appeal is a review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council main headquarters is in Falls Church, Va. The Appeals Council can decide to review or not review the judge's decision. The final level of appeal is a federal court appeal.

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced helping people obtain Social Security benefits?

A: One of the problems is not enough medical evidence supporting the claim. Social Security heavily relies upon objective medical evidence to render a decision. If Social Security does not have enough information, the agency may send the individual to a consultative exam with the person's examining doctors. Ideally, a person should regularly see providers to address all conditions.

If a person has depression or anxiety, a psychologist or psychiatrist should be consulted. Not only will this help toward better health, but document the problems. A person should also be open with the providers about all the problems.

-- Interviewed by David Butts

Editor's note: "Akamai Money" seeks out local experts to answer questions about business in Hawaii. If you have an issue you would like us to tackle, please email it to

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