Social Security disability benefits have taken on an ever-increasing role in the press in recent months, and as such, it is no surprise that the Law Library of Congress has received many questions regarding the law in this area. In this post, we will provide a basic overview of the two disability-related Social Security benefit plans, and offer information about some of the print and electronic resources available to help researchers in this often-confusing area.
When an individual references “Social Security disability benefits,” he or she is often referring to two programs overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA): (1) the Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI) and (2) the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI). While both programs utilize similar standards for establishing “disability,” and provide a certain amount of income replacement to disabled individuals, they differ in several other areas. Perhaps the most important of these differences is in eligibility. Generally, to be eligible for SSDI, an individual must not only prove that he or she is disabled, but also that he or she worked and contributed to the Social Security system for a certain period of time before claiming disability (often referred to as work credits). Eligibility for SSI does not depend on contribution requirements, but instead requires that a person be disabled, blind, or aged 65 or older, and “have low income and few resources.” Additionally, the two programs differ in how the monthly benefit is determined—for SSDI, the calculation focuses on and can vary depending on the individual’s earnings history, while the SSI benefit is “based on need.” For a more detailed explanation of the difference between the two programs, please review the SSA’s own comparison chart.
Treatises and Print Resources
Legal scholars have created several helpful print resources that examine and discuss the law regarding both SSDI and SSI. We provide links to the Library of Congress catalog entries to these resources below, but if you are unable to visit the Library, please use the WorldCat Catalog to find these resources in your area.
For True Beginners
- Social Security and Medicare Answer Book (2000-present)
- Nolo’s Guide to Social Security Disability: Getting & Keeping Your Benefits, by David A. Morton III (2012)
- Social Security, Medicare & Government Pensions: Get the Most Out of Your Retirement & Medical Benefits, by Joseph L. Matthews, with Dorothy Matthews Berman (2010)
- Win Your Social Security Disability Case: Advance Your SSD Claim and Receive the Benefits You Deserve, by Benjamin H. Berkley (2008)
- The Social Security & Medicare Handbook: What You Need to Know Explained Simply, by V.R. Leonard (2008)
- Social Security Practice Guide (1984-present)
- Social Security Law and Practice, edited by Michael A. Rosenhouse, et al. (1987-present)
- Social Security Disability Claims: Practice and Procedure, by Barbara Samuels (1994-present)
- Social Security Disability: Law and Procedure in Federal Court, by Carolyn A. Kubitschek and Jon C. Durbin (1997-present)
- West’s Social Security Disability Practice, by Charles Hall (1997-present)
- Social Security Disability Claims Handbook (2003-present)
- Social Security Disability Claims, by J. Douglas Peters (2005-present)
- Social Security Claims and Procedures, by Harvey L. McCormick (2009-present)
- Social Security Disability Practice, by Laura P. Valtorta (2009-present)
- Social Security Law and Practice: Cases and Materials, by Frank S. Bloch (2012)
Compiled Laws and Governmental Materials
- The Social Security Act Sourcebook, by the American Bar Association
- West’s Code of Federal Regulations Annotated. Title 20, Employees’ Benefits
Statutes, Regulations, and Agency Documents
Most federal statutes regarding Social Security benefits can be found in Chapter 7 of Title 42 of the United States Code (U.S.C.). Specifically, SSDI is discussed in selected sections of 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 to 433, while SSI is discussed in selected sections of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 to 1385.
Regulations and Agency Documents
Most federal regulations regarding Social Security disability benefits can be found in Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.). Specifically, SSDI is discussed in Part 404 and SSI is discussed in Part 416.
Further, the SSA provides several other agency resources regarding disability benefits, including:
- Social Security Rulings – Published by the head of the SSA, these rulings clarify regulations and policies, and are binding on the SSA. These Rulings are generally available in print and on Westlaw. Further, Social Security Rulings from 1960 to the present are available on the SSA website at http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/rulings/. Note, however, that the cumulative index available on the SSA website only indexes Rulings from 1960 to 2007.
- Program Operations Manual System – The Program Operations Manual System (POMS) is “a primary source of information used by Social Security employees to process claims for Social Security benefits.”
- Disability Evaluation Under Social Security – This resource, better known as the “Blue Book,” contains information about impairments that are considered disabilities. The SSA began publishing the Blue Book online in the early 2000s, and now it is only available on the SSA website.
- The Hearings, Appeals, and Litigation Manual - The Hearings, Appeals, and Litigation Manual (HALLEX), created for employees of the SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review,“defines procedures for carrying out policy and provides guidance for processing and adjudicating claims at the hearing, Appeals Council, and civil action levels.”
- The Red Book – A Guide to Work Incentives – The Red Book, published by the SSA “primarily for educators, advocates, rehabilitation professionals, and counselors who serve persons with disabilities,” describes the “employment support” programs available to participants in SSI and SSDI.
- Online Social Security Handbook – In this resource, the SSA describes “the provisions of the Social Security Act…, regulations issued under the Act, and precedential case decisions” so that they can be easily understood by those just starting their research.
Other Online Sources
In addition to the resources listed above, there are several helpful online sources that provide facts and guidance regarding the Social Security disability benefits system:
- Social Security Administration
- Navigating the System: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), by Peter McKee
- Rural Facts: SSI and SSDI Similarities and Differences, by Marsha Katz and the University of Montana Rural Institute
- Primer on Disability Benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), released by the Senate Special Committee on Aging
As always, we wish you luck with your research regarding Social Security disability benefits law. Please let us know in the comments if there are any other helpful sources you would like to add.
If you have any additional questions regarding research in this area, please do not hesitate to use our Ask a Librarian service.