"How can I get more money from disability?"

Disability FAQs: “How Can I Get More Money?”

Important: We updated this article in March 2023 to make sure all info below is both correct and current. We’ve gotten a ton of emails from readers basically asking the same question: “How can I get more money for my disability?” Today, we’ll provide answers for every scenario people asked us about below.

“Can I Get My Disability Reevaluated, Then Receive More Money?”

Unfortunately, no. The reason why is simple: Your disability payments aren’t based on your symptoms, or which health condition(s) you have. You can’t get paid more money because your symptoms got worse, or for any other medical reason. Once you qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, your average monthly paycheck while working determines your monthly pay amount. Here’s how the formula works:

  1. The Social Security Administration (SSA) averages your highest monthly paychecks earned over your work history. However, you must have worked full-time and paid FICA taxes for 5 in the last 10 years before becoming disabled.
  2. Then, they adjust that monthly paycheck amount for current inflation.
  3. Your monthly SSDI payment equals a percentage of that final amount. In most cases, it’s 40% of your highest average monthly paycheck earned while working.

However, the percentage you get paid in SSD benefits isn’t always exactly 40%. It depends on whether your wages were lower than average, about average, or higher than average for any given year. For example: In 2021, the average wage index amount was $60,575.07. If your annual salary was $30,000 in 2021, your SSDI payment should equal closer to 75% of your monthly paycheck. But if you earned $90,000, your SSDI payment could be as little as 27% of your average monthly paycheck. The SSA uses an identical formula to calculate who gets paid more money (or less) in retirement benefits based on these percentages.

“If I Was Approved for SSI, Can I Get More Money If More Things Are Wrong With Me?”

This is a slightly different question since the person asked specifically about SSI, or Supplemental Security Income. SSI payments come out of the federal government’s general tax fund. If you haven’t worked recently or enough years to qualify for SSDI, then you may get SSI disability. Unlike SSDI, the government doesn’t use your past work earnings to calculate your SSI payment. Instead, nearly all people on SSI receive the maximum monthly payment. In 2023, the max SSI payment any individual can receive is $914 a month. But for couples, it’s $1,371 per month.

However, this reader says she gets just $522 in monthly SSI and needs more money to live on. That’s likely because SSI benefits automatically qualify you for Medicaid health coverage. So, her SSI payment shows how much her state deducts to cover her monthly Medicaid premiums. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get more money in SSI benefits based on your health condition or symptoms. However, many states pay additional cash to SSI recipients on top of their federal payments.

Related: Slideshow: Social Security Disability FAQs

“How Do I Get Approved For More Money? What Has To Be Happening To Someone To Get More Money?”

Honestly, there are just a few ways to get more money each month once you’re on disability. One involves working and paying more Social Security taxes (also known as FICA taxes). Once you qualify for SSDI, your health problems may improve enough for you to start working again in time. But you don’t have to give up your benefits just to try working part-time or at home.

Instead, the SSA’s Ticket to Work program specifically helps people on SSD ease back into the job market. That program gives you all the resources you need to ease back into working part-time or even work from home. You can work for up to nine months before deciding whether you can handle full-time jobs again. But if you try to sneak around and work to earn income without telling the SSA first, they’ll end your benefits immediately.

Your second way to get more money is through each year’s approved cost-of-living-adjustment increase. The federal government announces each year’s COLA increase in October, which goes into effect the following January. The 2021 COLA increase was 5.9%; in 2022, it reached a 42-year high of 8.7%. Any veteran, SSDI or SSI recipient automatically gets a raise that’s equal to that percentage amount. In other words, if your SSD payment is $2,000 in December 2022, then it changes to $2,174 in January 2023. However, the federal government doesn’t guarantee a COLA increase every year.

“My Brother-in-Law’s Disability Went Up In April, Mine Didn’t. Did I Do Something Wrong?”

A third way to get more money each month involves the SSA’s twice-yearly AERO recalculation of benefits. This happens every March and October, and the SSA uses your state and federal income tax information to do this. Basically, when you apply for SSD, they look at your previous year’s earnings and the year before you became disabled. You might mistakenly submit incomplete income information or other things that result in a lower payment than you deserve. If the SSA owes you more money than you currently get, then they increase your disability amount automatically.

Another reason why some people’s payments appear to increase randomly throughout the year? Because of things like the workers’ compensation offset. If you qualify for workers’ comp due to a serious job injury, SSD usually comes next. Let’s say you are in a major trucking accident and must surrender your commercial driver’s license (CDL). Your doctor says you need a series of back surgeries before you can drive safely again for long distances. If your workers’ compensation runs out after disability begins, your first few SSD payments will be lower. For example: You get $500 each month in workers’ comp and $1,000 per month in SSD for half a year. Once workers’ comp payments end, your SSD amount goes up to $1,500 per month. This higher SSD payment reflects the amount originally “offset” by your workers’ compensation benefits.

“I Split My Time Between Michigan & California. Does My State Matter for Getting Disability? Which One Pays More Money?”

Yes! A few U.S. states have programs that pay short-term or temporary disability benefits:

These payments usually last no more than 6-12 months, depending on which state you live in. If you need more money and already get federal disability, then you likely qualify for these programs, too.

Thinking about filing an SSD claim? Having an experienced Social Security attorney help you apply makes you nearly 3x more likely to get benefits. Since these lawyers charge nothing up front, you can get a free phone call at home to discuss your case. If you don’t get benefits, then you owe the lawyer $0. And if you do win, you’ll only pay one small fee after the SSA awards you benefits.

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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.