The rule allowing someone who has never worked to claim Social Security retirement benefits in their own right based on the earnings record of a former spouse may lead to some confusion when the topic shifts from retirement to Social Security disability. Different rules apply when a spouse applies SSD benefits for a spouse, which differ from the retirement rules.

To gain a better understanding of how the rules governing SSD benefits for spouses work, let’s take a look at the two disability programs administered through the Social Security Administration. As we take you through the SSD for spouse benefits by reviewing the Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance programs, be mindful of the legal advice and experienced representation available from an SSD lawyer at NY Disability.

Can a spouse claim SSDI through a spouse’s earnings record?

If you have a disability and cannot work as a result of it, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits. However, you can only qualify for them by meeting the medical requirements and by having worked and paid Social Security taxes for a long enough period to earn a sufficient number of Social Security work credits.

You cannot qualify for SSDI through the earnings record of your spouse or a former spouse. However, you may be eligible for a spousal benefit based on the earnings record of your spouse or former spouse if you are divorced. If you never worked and have a disability or are blind, another option for you may be SSD benefits through the Supplemental Security Income program.

Spousal benefits available through SSDI

As the spouse of someone receiving Social Security disability benefits through SSDI, you may be eligible for spousal benefits. If your spouse receives SSDI benefits, you may qualify for up to one-half of what they receive each month.

The amount that you receive as a spouse depends upon whether other members of the family, such as children, also receive benefits because of a family member qualifying for SSDI. The total payable to the family cannot exceed 180% of the disability benefit received by the person with the disability.

Depending on the monthly payment to the SSDI beneficiary and the number of family members entitled to family benefits, the amount payable to the family ranges from 150% to 180% of the SSDI benefit. Another factor affecting your benefits as a spouse is the age at which you begin receiving them.

You can start receiving spousal benefits at 62 years of age. It is important to understand that by accepting spousal benefits before reaching full retirement, which is based on your birth year, a permanent reduction is made to the benefit you receive. The amount of the reduction depends on the number of months from the date you claim the benefit until full retirement age.

As an example, a 62-year-old who begins receiving SSD benefits for a spouse in 2021 would receive 32.9% less each month. The reduction in benefits reflects the fact that someone who is currently 62 years old was born in 1959, and their full retirement age is 66 years and 10 months.

Spousal benefits may be claimed at any age, even younger than 62 years old if you have a child for whom you provide care. The child must be younger than 16 years of age or younger than 22 years of age if the child is disabled and receives benefits. Benefits do not get reduced when you are caring for a child as they are for a spouse who takes them before reaching full retirement age.

Claiming benefits as the spouse of a deceased worker

If your spouse who was eligible for disability benefits dies, you may be eligible for benefits as the widow or widower at 60 years of age or as young as 50 years of age if you are disabled. There is no age restriction for claiming benefits when you care for a child younger than 16 years of age or a child who is disabled and receives child’s benefits.

SSI benefits for spouses

The SSI program does not offer SSD benefits for spouses, but you may qualify for benefits in your own right. If you are disabled or blind with limited income and financial resources, you may qualify for SSI benefits.

Unlike the SSDI program that requires a work record to receive disability benefits, you may qualify for SSI without ever working. SSI is a needs-based program, so you may not have resources with a total value exceeding $2,000. Married couples who both qualify for SSI benefits because of being blind or disabled may not have resources valued over $3,000.

Learn more about spousal benefits from an SSD lawyer

Even though you may not be eligible for disability benefits through SSDI or SSI, you may have options as the spouse of someone who qualifies for SSDI. Learn more about the options available to you by speaking with a Social Security disability lawyer at NY Disability during a free, no-obligation consultation.