When you think of Maine, what comes to mind? If it’s lobster, there is a good reason for it! With about 4,500 active fishermen in the state, the annual lobster haul is around 40 million pounds! That’s 90% of the nation’s lobster supply! But did you know that Maine is also responsible for 99% of all the blueberries in the U.S.? And 90% of all toothpicks. Also, Stephen King lives there. Which doesn’t have anything to do with toothpicks (or does it)? But if your current life circumstances are starting to resemble Misery or another horror novel, rest assured there is help. The state’s residents have two options to apply for Maine disability benefits — but how do you qualify?
What Are the Two Maine Disability Programs Available for Residents?
Out of the 1.3 million current residents, about 210,000 Mainers report living with a disability. That’s about 16.3% of the population, and more than the 12.6% national average. Plus, 32.4% of working-age Mainers with disabilities live at or below the federal poverty level (compared to 7.7% for non-disabled).
Still, with those numbers, only about 9.4% of Maine residents are receiving any disability benefits. In other words, many individuals who might qualify are missing out on financial help they could really use.
What are the options for Maine residents who do need assistance? There are two federal programs Mainers can apply for through the Social Security Administration (SSA). They include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The former looks mostly at prior work history, the latter at financial need. Both require applicants to meet the federal definition of disability. Here’s how to know where you might fit.
How Do I Qualify for SSDI or SSI Benefits in Maine?
The two disability options available to Maine residents are federally funded. However, the Maine Disability Determination Services (DDS) screens applicants in order to determine who is eligible to receive benefits. The good news is that individuals need only apply one time for consideration for both Maine disability programs.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the first program for which Mainers can apply. These benefits are for disabled individuals who have:
- Met the SSA’s definition of disability.
- Are unable to work for 12 months or more owing to said medical condition.
- Have a qualifying work history where they paid Social Security taxes.
What that means is that anyone applying for this benefit must demonstrate they’ve worked about one-fourth of their adult lives. And they must also show recent work, to the tune of about five of the last 10 years. This program is specifically designed for adults aged 18-65 with long-term health issues that force them to stop working.
Individuals without enough work credits may apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The second of the two available Maine disability programs, SSI bases support on financial need. It provides monthly cash benefits to children and adults who again meet the federal definition of disability. Currently there are about 35,947 Mainers receiving SSI benefits — most of whom are aged, blind, or mobility/mentally impaired.
What Other Assistance is Available for the Disabled in Maine?
Individuals who qualify for Maine disability benefits are also automatically enrolled in Medicaid. Not every state has this perk. The MaineCare program is a definite bonus for individuals who qualify for SSDI or SSI. It provides free or low-cost medical insurance to the disabled throughout the state.
There are additional state supplemental program (SSP) benefits available in Maine as well. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Programs like these help augment the SSDI or SSI benefits some disabled individuals may receive. However, they may require more applications and paperwork in order to qualify. A Maine disability lawyer can help you understand all the programs for which you may be eligible. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
How Much Is a Typical Maine Disability Monthly Payment?
In 2022, the maximum SSDI payment an individual on Maine disability can receive is $3,345. The average payment, however, is more like $1,358/month. The amount is wholly determined by how much a person has made during their working life prior to being disabled.
Applicants who qualify for SSI can receive a maximum benefit of $841 per month or $1,261 as a couple. That is the 2022 federal benefit rate (FBR), which varies annually. The amount will go up or down depending on the cost-of-living analysis (COLA) each year.
The 2022 max FBR is also the most you can make monthly in countable income and still qualify for SSI. Unfortunately, the calculations to determine countable income can also be a little confusing. And the more countable income a person has, the lower their potential SSI payment.
This is another reason people applying for Maine disability may benefit from a free consultation with a Social Security attorney. Keep in mind that most disability attorneys work on contingency. So, it won’t cost you anything out of pocket unless you win. But if you’re going through this process, you undoubtedly want to get the best outcome possible. And a disability lawyer can help you navigate the system more successfully.
How Long Will It Take to Get Maine Disability Benefits?
The short answer here is, it’s going to take some time. Federal law requires a five-month waiting period before anyone can get SSDI payments after their claim’s approved. If you delay applying that long after you’ve stopped working, you can skip the waiting period. However, the longer you wait to file, the longer you’ll also wait on any potential funds.
Especially since getting from application to settlement can take months. Currently, the average case processing time in Maine is 288 days. That’s actually less than the national average of 418 days, but it’s still a long time. And it can feel like forever when your financial situation is tough.
Furthermore, if you’re not successful on the first shot, you’ll be waiting even longer. On the positive side, 45% of Maine disability cases are ultimately approved after a hearing. However, the average wait to get in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) after initial rejection is nine months. And there are currently only 10 of these judges working out of one office in Portland, ME.
In extremely dire situations, applicants may apply for the Compassionate Allowances program (CAL). This may help expedite claim processing for those experiencing catastrophic medical crises like brain injuries, ALS, or stage 4 cancer. But in all cases, getting through the application process is going to be just that — a process.
How Do I Apply for Maine Disability?
If you’re still with us this far, chances are you’re thinking you may qualify for Maine disability and should apply. So, how exactly do you do that? Well, you have a few options.
The SSA prefers that you begin the process online through their disability benefits portal. This entails gathering all the information they recommend on their Adult Disability Checklist and entering it online. Then the SSA will forward applicants who seemingly qualify to the Maine DDS for further processing.
Individuals without online capabilities, however, may also choose to call the SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) anytime during normal business hours Monday through Friday.
There are also eight SSA field offices in Maine that a person may visit. However, owing to the pandemic and limited staffing, appointments must be made and are not usually encouraged unless it’s an emergency situation.
The final option? Get a Maine disability lawyer to file a claim for you. As previously aforementioned, having someone who knows how things work can help you more successfully negotiate the disability system. In fact, individuals who hire a Social Security attorney are three-times more likely to ultimately receive disability benefits.
And at this point, don’t you deserve all the help you can get? It only seems fair.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter/X @KimberlyNeumann.