Recently, a reader wrote in to ask us a question about applying for Social Security disability benefits. “If I live in one state but work in another, which should I file for disability in?” This is an interesting question, because there’s not really one simple answer. The state where you file your claim can impact how long it takes to get your first disability payment. But your benefit amount usually won’t change, regardless of which state you apply in. Only five U.S. states have their own temporary or short-term disability programs, which we’ll address at the end of this article.
How Your State Affects Your Disability Claim’s Average Processing Time
Most people know they can file a disability claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to apply for benefits. However, your filing state does play a role in how long you’ll wait for your claim’s approval. In 2021, it took the SSA about 418 days total to process each disability claim nationwide. That said, every state has its own DDS office that reviews disability claims on the SSA’s behalf. If DDS approves your initial disability claim, it takes about 120 days to process, on average. That means regardless of your filing state, you’ll get your first payment about five months after you apply.
But if DDS denies your initial claim and you choose to appeal, things get a little trickier. The first appeal step’s called reconsideration, which adds another 109 days to your average wait time. If you’re denied again and file a second appeal, the state you applied in makes a huge difference. Hawaii is currently the state with the longest wait time for disability hearings (17 months before your court date). It takes 521 days, on average, for that state to process your disability claim (17.4 months). That means you’ll likely get your first disability check 18-24 months after you file.
Contrast that with the state that has the shortest disability claim-processing time as of October 2021. If you apply for disability benefits in Maine, it takes about 288 days total to process your claim. That means you’ll likely get your first disability check around 10 months after your filing date! You should always file your claim in the state you reside in. That’s because once you reach the appeals stage, the SSA schedules your hearing within 150 miles of your home.
For Disability Benefit Amounts, Where You File Doesn’t Matter – Except These 5 States
Since two federal government programs pay 99% of disability benefits, the state where you apply won’t affect your pay amount. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit program pays an average of $1,358/month in 2022 to eligible applicants. Only people who worked within the last five years and paid Social Security payroll taxes can qualify for SSDI benefits. The amount you receive in SSDI should equal about 40% of your average monthly paychecks earned while working. The maximum SSDI benefit amount you can receive is $3,345/month, but few people get that much money. You’d need to work for man years earning at least $142,000/year to qualify for that amount.
The other federal program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), pays benefits to the poorest disabled Americans. The state where you apply has no effect on your SSI benefit amount. It pays no more than $841/month in disability benefits to people with too few work credits to qualify for SSDI.
Only five U.S. states have their own short-term or temporary disability programs. If you happen to live in a state listed below, then this may affect you:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Each state shown above has a specific program that provides disability benefits for about six months. California is the lone exception; that state pays benefits for no more than one year. The monthly benefit amounts are much lower than both federal programs, though. New York, for example, pays a maximum of $170 per week. But the good news is, you could potentially qualify for state-based disability as well as federal benefits! If you live in any other state, the only way to get temporary or short-term disability is through your employer.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Filing your claim through a Social Security attorney makes you almost 3x more likely to get disability benefits. Those who apply with legal assistance through our website typically get $10,000 in lump-sum backpay as well as monthly benefits. People who apply without legal assistance typically wait 18-24 months for their first payment. Think you can’t afford a lawyer? All Social Security disability attorneys work on contingency. That means if the SSA won’t approve your claim, you owe the lawyer $0 for legal assistance. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
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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.