Important: We updated this article in March 2023 to make sure everything below is both correct and current. Are you having trouble living on your current monthly Social Security disability payments? You’re not alone. Although SSD benefits help many Americans, they don’t necessarily cover all monthly bills like rent, food, and other things you need. But getting a monthly benefits increase can be surprisingly hard. So, is it actually possible to increase your Social Security disability payments? Short answer: Yes. For the longer answer, read on…
Monthly Social Security Disability Payments, Explained
Your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is what determines the amount of Social Security disability income you currently get each month. Initially, your PIA is based on your job income before you stopped working. (It can also be based on your husband or wife’s work income, if you qualify for benefits that way). Unlike other government programs (i.e., VA disability and workers’ compensation benefits), SSDI is not based on how disabled you are. How much your illness or injury affects your daily life also does not impact your monthly benefit amount. Therefore, raising your PIA is the only sure way to make your monthly Social Security disability payments larger. There are two ways to do that: through a COLA adjustment or twice-yearly automatic AERO recalculation.
Method #1: Annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), or COLA Increase
A COLA is the most viable way to increase your monthly disability payments. It applies to all people who get SSDI no matter what. If the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers goes up, an equal COLA increase takes effect in December of that year. The Consumer Price Index falls under the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each month, they compile data noting any changes in prices people paid for the most common goods and services. (For example: They compare the average median price increase for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk over time.)
Any CPI increase shows up as a COLA increase in monthly Social Security disability payments by the same percentage, starting the following January. Here’s an example to help you understand how this works: In 2021, the CPI rose by 1.3%. The 2022 COLA was 5.9%, a major boost. But at 8.9%, this year’s COLA is the largest raise in more than 41 years. The max SSDI payment for 2023 is $3,627, with an average benefit amount of $1,483 across the country.
Even though a COLA increase affects your SSDI benefits, it has no effect on the SSI resource limits. To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you cannot have access to more than $2,000 in financial resources. And if both partners in a couple get SSI benefits, your resources added together cannot exceed $3,000.
Method #2: AERO Recalculation of Benefits
The second way to raise your PIA is by recalculating your benefits so you receive credit for previously un-credited earnings. This process automatically happens twice each year and is called an Automatic Earnings Reappraisal Operation (AERO) recalculation. Here’s how it works: When you start getting SSD benefits, the SSA calculates your payment amount using the previous year’s job income. This is usually based on your tax information or other documents you filed with your initial application to verify your income.
Every year you qualify for SSDI benefits, the SSA compares how much money you earned the year before your health problems began as well as the prior year’s income. The SSA automatically reviews these numbers to determine if any prior year’s income may impact your Social Security disability payments.
These AERO recalculations happen automatically every March and October. If you qualify for higher Social Security disability payments from an AERO recalculation, you’ll get a letter by mail about a month later. Your next Social Security disability payments should reflect this increase as well as any back pay you receive.
In Rare Cases, There’s a Third Way to Increase Social Security Disability Payments…
While the two methods above are the only proven ways to increase monthly benefit payments, there is one small exception. If you receive workers’ compensation benefits after a serious job accident, it can also affect your monthly payments. This is known as the “workers’ compensation offset” rule, and it reduces SSD. According to the SSA, your combined workers’ comp and Social Security disability benefits cannot exceed 80% of your income from past work. Otherwise, the specific amount you get in monthly benefits is based on your previous job income and cannot change.
Get Free Expert Claim Help At Home
If you believe the SSA made a mistake on your Social Security disability payments or you deserve more money, talk to a lawyer. A Social Security attorney can review your case free of charge at any time.
Disability lawyers can help get the right medical records to help prove your case. Plus, having a lawyer file your claim makes you nearly 3x more likely to get benefits right away.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online claim review now:
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.