3 Ways to Get Wisconsin Disability Benefits

Disability Benefits

Important: We updated this article in May 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. Just over 5.9 million people live in Wisconsin. Of those, more than 1.2 million residents are aged 50-64. That’s the prime age for collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits! However, just 2.4% of residents unable to work due to health issues get Wisconsin disability benefits from SSDI. Another 1.7% receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits each month. If health problems force you to stop working before you’re old enough to retire, don’t worry! There are three different programs that may provide you with Wisconsin disability benefits.

Wisconsin Disability Benefits: You Have 3 Ways to Apply

You may qualify for monthly cash benefits from one of three different Wisconsin disability programs. The first two are federal disability programs that the Social Security Administration (SSA) manages. The last one’s a state-run program for public employees, which includes local government workers as well as teachers.

Here are all three programs that offer Wisconsin disability benefits:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  3. WRS Employee Disability Retirement Benefits

For the first two programs, Wisconsin disability applicants can check one box on the claim form to apply for both. You can only qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits, not both at the same time. However, the SSA will review your eligibility for SSDI as well as SSI benefits. They do this to ensure you’ll get the most money possible once the SSA determines that you’re eligible. The third Wisconsin disability benefits program’s only available to teachers and “public” employees. (This includes elected officials, firemen, police officers, and state or local government employees, but not federal workers.)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): How to Apply, Qualify & Payment Amounts

If you work for an employer that deducts FICA taxes from every paycheck, you’re likely covered under the SSDI program. That’s because SSDI’s technically a federal disability insurance program designed to protect working-age Americans. Anyone who’s worked at least 5 in the last 10 years full-time and paid Social Security (or FICA) payroll taxes may qualify. Keep reading to learn about getting Wisconsin disability benefits through the SSDI program.

1. Who Can Apply for SSDI?

If you answer “yes” to every bullet below, feel free to file your SSDI claim for Wisconsin disability benefits:

  • Have you worked full-time jobs for 5 in the last 10 years and paid Social Security taxes? Your SSDI coverage automatically ends after you stop working for 60 months. That’s why it’s crucial to apply for SSDI less than five years after your health forces you to stop working. If you haven’t worked recently or enough years to qualify, then the SSA automatically denies you benefits.
  • Are your health problems bad enough to make you take 12 months off work? Your health issue must last for at least one year become terminal to make you eligible for SSDI. In other words, SSDI won’t pay you Wisconsin disability benefits if your condition gets better within 12 months.
  • Have you seen a doctor to treat your health issue within the last year? Great, you’re one step closer to qualifying for SSDI! Otherwise, the SSA needs to confirm your diagnosis through a Disability Determination Services (DDS) exam. The SSA just needs proof your condition truly stops you from working for at least 12 months. Can’t afford to see a doctor? Talk to Wisconsin disability lawyer about filing your claim. They can pay for your doctor’s visit and medical records without billing you until after your SSDI claim’s approved!
  • Are you somewhere between 18-66 years old? SSDI specifically covers working-age Americans who cannot perform substantial gainful activity. Once you reach your full retirement age (FRA), Wisconsin disability payments through the SSDI program automatically turn into regular Social Security retirement. So unfortunately, you can be too old to qualify for SSDI if you apply after your 67th birthday.

If you don’t think you can qualify for SSDI, skip directly to the SSI program section now.

2. How Long Will It Take To Get My First SSDI Payment?

Six months from your SSDI application date is the soonest you’ll get your first Wisconsin disability check. The SSA typically takes 3-5 months to review each SSDI application for Wisconsin disability benefits. That’s because federal law says they must enforce the SSDI program’s five-month mandatory waiting period. Unfortunately, many people wait closer to 1-2 years for their first Wisconsin disability check. That’s because they get denied benefits the first time, then finally win after appealing their case. Having a lawyer file your SSDI claim makes you almost 3x more likely to get benefits. Plus, a Wisconsin disability lawyer can’t charge you any fees until after the SSA approves you for benefits. In February 2023, SSDI applications for Wisconsin disability benefits took 349 days to process, on average.

If you apply on your own without a lawyer, it takes much longer. Right now, the SSA turns down 4 in 5 first-time Wisconsin disability applicants. If that happens, you have 60 days to appeal. Every applicant can appeal a denied SSDI claim four times before they’re forced to re-apply. Reconsideration is the first appeal stage, and it adds another 100 days to your wait time. At this stage, about 2% of appealed claims get approved. If denied a second time, you can request an appeals hearing to plead your case. How long that stage takes depends entirely on where you live. In Milwaukee, you’ll wait about 9 months for your court date. In Madison, you’ll wait even longer — about 10 months, on average. If you win benefits on appeal, you’ll wait more than a year for your first SSDI payment!

3. How Much Does SSDI Pay Wisconsin Disability Claimants Each Month?

The SSDI program’s maximum monthly Wisconsin disability payment in 2023 is $3,627. To get that amount, you’ll need to earn more than $150,000 annually for 10+ years before you apply for benefits. Nationwide, disabled workers currently receive $1,483 in monthly SSDI benefits, on average. The only way to increase your payments is via an annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA).

4. Are SSDI Benefits for Wisconsin Disability Claimants Permanent?

The SSDI program does not pay permanent Wisconsin disability benefits. Instead, you’ll need to prove you still cannot work once every 3, 5, or 7 years. Every so often, you’ll get a letter in the mail asking you to check in with the SSA. If at any time you get well enough to work again, the SSA stops your Wisconsin disability checks. This continues until you turn 67. Once that happens, the SSA automatically converts your Wisconsin disability into regular Social Security payments. Your monthly benefit amount won’t change. You also don’t need to file any paperwork for those payments.

Bonus Tip: Always fill out and return your disability update forms on time! If you fail to check in regularly, the SSA automatically ends your Wisconsin disability payments.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): How to Apply, Qualify & Payment Amounts

Anyone who hasn’t worked in the right jobs or enough years may qualify for Wisconsin disability through the SSI program. The federal SSI program’s designed to provide monthly assistance to the poorest blind, disabled, and older Americans. You’ll need very low income and almost no assets to qualify for Wisconsin disability through the SSI program. Below, we’ll explain how the SSI program screens Wisconsin disability applicants, benefit amounts and more.

1. SSI Claimants Younger Than 65 Must Be Blind or Disabled to Qualify

Only blind or disabled SSI applicants can qualify for Wisconsin disability before they turn 65 years old. Both SSI and SSDI programs use the same medical exams. So, you’ll need to see a DDS doctor to confirm you meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled.” If you’re at least 65, the SSI program waives your free exam. Instead, your age alone meets the SSI program’s medical criteria for Wisconsin disability benefits.

2. SSI Financial Testing Looks for Very Low Income and Almost No Assets

You’ll have to list all your monthly income and financial assets on your SSI application for Wisconsin disability. The SSI program defines “income” as any money you get on a monthly basis. That means any money you earn through work, plus what the SSA calls “passive income.” This includes things like alimony or child support payments, interest from your savings account, lottery winnings, TANF, SNAP, etc. In addition, you can’t have more than $2,000 in your bank account to qualify for SSI. They’ll also look for anything you own and can sell for cash to count towards your asset limit. Examples might include jewelry, property, 401k or IRA balances, a second car, stocks, or bonds. Things that won’t count towards your $2,000 limit include:

  • Your house (if you own it) and the land it’s on
  • One vehicle (car, truck, motorcycle, boat) for household transportation
  • Wedding ring, furniture, clothing or other items (appliances, bedding, towels) for daily living

Basically, you won’t qualify for SSI if you own too much stuff or have more than $1,470 in monthly income. Married couples must have less than $3,000 in assets and $1,470 in total monthly income to qualify for SSI.

3. The SSI Program’s Max Monthly Payment Is $914 Per Person, or $1,371 for Couples

Luckily, any year there’s an annual COLA increase, it also raises SSI benefit amounts. Once the SSI program approves you for Wisconsin disability benefits, you’ll need to reconfirm your status every few years. Much like the SSDI program, you’ll get a letter in the mail asking for a status update. Just fill that out and return it on time if your symptoms stay the same. Once you turn 65, you’ll get to keep your SSI benefits based on age alone. That means you’ll never have to fill out another disability update report to keep your payments! However, you must still meet the SSI program’s financial limits.

Wisconsin Disability Retirement Benefits Exclusively Available for WRS Employees

WRS employees who must stop working before normal retirement age can apply for Wisconsin disability retirement benefits. This includes both short and long-term disabling conditions, so the one-year “unable to work” rule doesn’t apply. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Your normal retirement age varies based on your employment category. The normal retirement age for WRS employees is between 53-65 years old, depending on their job title. See all the age requirements listed in this brochure on page 3.
  2. You can work part-time and keep your Wisconsin disability retirement benefits, in certain cases. You just have to stay under the annual earnings limit for WRS employees. In 2023, you must earn less than $18,883 from work, according to the ETF’s website.
  3. There’s a 90-day waiting period before WRS employees can get their first Wisconsin disability retirement payment. Normally, the day after your last paycheck goes through is your “effective date.” If you wait longer than that to apply, you might miss a partial or full month’s payment.
  4. Your Wisconsin disability retirement pay amount depends on how long you’ve been a WRS employee and final average earnings.
  5. You might qualify for both SSDI and Wisconsin disability retirement payments each month. This isn’t very common, but it’s possible! We recommend applying for both programs if you think you might qualify. Not sure whether you may qualify? You can consult a Wisconsin disability lawyer for free before you file.

Having a Wisconsin disability lawyer file your application makes you nearly 3x as likely to get benefits. All disability lawyers work on contingency. So, you won’t pay a Social Security attorney anything for help unless you’re successful.

And if you do win, then you’ll only pay one small fee out of your back pay.

Want free expert claim help right away? Click the button below to start your free online benefits quiz now to see if you may qualify:

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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.