The Stigma of Public Assistance

Disability Stigma

The question of whether to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income is a tough one for many people with a number of personal, social, political, religious, etc. elements to be considered. In reading about social assistance programs you encounter people who believe that everyone living with some form of  social assistance is very excited and happy to be doing so, others that note that there is still a stigma and that there are those out there trying to enhance it, and, generally, the middle ground.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that many of the people harboring extreme opinions about social assistance programs are the least informed about them. Very often, these people are ignorant of programs like work incentives for people collecting disability or even the general eligibility requirements for people to even qualify for, let alone collect benefits. Unfortunately, these less than educated opinions have very much worked their ways into the national political discourse and really colored the way people choose to pursue benefits to which they may be entitled.

The reality of the situation is that most people collecting benefits do not want to be on any form of public assistance, but need to be. Think of this objectively: in order to qualify for SSDI you must be out of work for twelve months or more, have a severe condition or conditions, not be able to physically or mentally (or both) maintain any work in your old field or a new one, and not have any substantial income. Earnings over $1,130, or $13,560 for the year, are considered “substantial” for 2016. You can have severe conditions and still not be approved. Not being able to find a job is not the same as being unable to maintain one and will not be considered the same way, if at all.

So, with an objective look at the eligibility requirements, we see that a person’s situation would already have to be pretty dire in order for them to qualify for SSDI, let alone actually collect it. Who has ever lived a full adult life without any real income, let alone with no earnings for multiple years? And this is even considering that SSDI is a type of insurance that anyone who has been gainfully employed has paid for themselves through their contributions to payroll taxes. A person would probably not be shamed for collecting on a renter’s policy for thefts from an apartment or billing healthcare costs to their health insurance, so why is it that they should be ashamed for attempting to collect SSDI?

The simple answer is that they should not. However, this is the way such benefits are often regarded in the United States.

But this is also a good reason to have a representative for your SSDI claim. Attorneys and direct-pay advocates have a number of responsibilities that should help anyone thinking of applying with the stigma aspect of the application. Most importantly, representatives are responsible for only representing individuals with legitimate claims for benefits. Doing otherwise may substantially prejudice an individual’s rights down the line which ultimately is a form of malpractice. Representatives can actually also help make the system more efficient by presenting completed files to the agency, making sure claimants stick to claim-related appointments, and concisely stating an individual’s case to the Agency, thereby eliminating administrative waste. And those are only a few of the advantages of having a representative for your SSDI  (or SSI!) claim.

If you are thinking about applying for benefits, or if you have received a denial and contemplating what to do next, use our contact form or give us a call at 1-866-262-8595.

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