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How Does Disability Work In CA: A Comprehensive Guide

Last updated: August 6, 2023

In California, the process of obtaining disability benefits involves several crucial steps, depending on the type of disability insurance. Two main types of disability insurance programs are available in California: State Disability Insurance (SDI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

To understand how does disability work in CA, in this article, we will explore both programs in depth, discussing eligibility requirements, application procedures, and benefit durations.

California State Disability Insurance (SDI)

SDI is a state-mandated program that provides short-term income replacement for eligible workers who are temporarily unable to work due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. The California Employment Development Department (EDD) administers the SDI program, and benefits are funded through payroll deductions.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for SDI benefits, you must meet the following requirements:

  • be unable to perform your regular work duties for at least eight consecutive days
  • be employed or actively seeking employment at the time your disability began
  • have earned at least $300 from which SDI deductions were withheld during a 12-month base period
  • be under the care and treatment of a licensed healthcare provider and provide certification of your disability
  • complete and submit the required claim forms within 49 days of the onset of your disability

Application Process

To apply for SDI benefits, follow these steps:

  • Obtain a Claim for Disability Insurance (DI) Benefits (DE 2501) form from your employer, the EDD website, or a local EDD office.
  • Complete the form, ensuring that you provide all required information and documentation.
  • Submit the form to the EDD either by mail or online using the SDI Online system.
  • Await a decision from the EDD, which typically takes up to 14 days.

Benefit Duration And Amount

The maximum benefit period for SDI is 52 weeks. Benefit amounts are calculated based on your earnings during the highest-earning quarter of your base period. The weekly benefit amount ranges from $50 to $1,357, with the average being around 60-70% of your usual weekly earnings.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is a federal program that provides long-term financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a severe and long-lasting disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the SSDI program, and benefits are funded through Social Security taxes. To know how does disability work in CA, it is important to understand the application process and eligibility.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must meet the following criteria:

  • have a medical condition that meets the SSA's definition of disability, which typically means that the condition is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
  • have worked long enough and recently enough to have earned sufficient social security work credits.
  • be younger than your full retirement age, as SSDI benefits convert to retirement benefits when you reach this age.

Application Process

To apply for SSDI benefits, follow these steps:

  • Gather the necessary documentation, including medical records, work history, and personal information.
  • Complete the online application on the SSA website, or schedule an appointment with your local Social Security office to apply in person or by phone.
  • Cooperate with the Disability Determination Services (DDS) during their evaluation of your claim, which may involve attending medical examinations or providing additional documentation.
  • Await a decision from the SSA, which can take several months.

Benefit Duration And Amount

SSDI benefits continue for as long as you remain disabled and unable to work, subject to periodic reviews of your medical condition. Benefit amounts are based on your average lifetime earnings covered by Social Security. The average monthly SSDI benefit in 2021 was $1,277, though individual amounts can vary.

Working While Receiving Disability Benefits 

When considering whether or not to take on a job while receiving disability benefits, it is important to note that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has guidelines in place to ensure individuals do not take on too much work. The SSA’s “Substantial Gainful Activity” limit is currently set at $1,220 a month for non-blind individuals and $2,040 a month for blind individuals. If an individual’s earnings exceed this limit, the SSA will consider their disability benefits to have been terminated.

It is also important to be aware that if a person’s disability improves, they may have to start paying taxes on their disability benefits. Any income from work may affect the amount of disability benefits an individual receives. For these reasons, it is important to speak to a professional to ensure that any income from working does not negatively impact an individual’s ability to receive disability benefits.

California State Disability Insurance (SDI): While receiving SDI benefits, you are allowed to work part-time or perform modified work, as long as your healthcare provider approves it and your earnings do not exceed your weekly benefit amount. If your earnings are higher than your SDI benefits, your benefits may be reduced or stopped.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Under the SSDI program, you may participate in the Trial Work Period (TWP), which allows you to test your ability to work for nine months within a 60-month period without affecting your benefits. After the TWP, if you continue working, you enter the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), during which your benefits may be reduced or stopped based on your earnings.

Appealing A Denied Disability Claim 

It is important to remember that appealing a denied disability claim is a lengthy process, and it is important to follow the appeals process carefully. If the initial appeal is denied, claimants have the right to file a request for a hearing with an administrative law judge or a civil court. For an administrative law judge hearing, claimants must file a request for hearing and provide additional evidence to support their claim. During the hearing, the administrative law judge will consider all of the evidence and testimony presented. 

After the hearing, the administrative law judge will issue a written decision. If the claimant is not satisfied with the decision of the administrative law judge, they can file an appeal with the Social Security appeals council or with the federal court. Filing an appeal with either of these entities requires the submission of additional evidence and/or testimony to support the claim. It is important to remember that the appeals process can take several months and that claimants should be prepared to follow the process through to completion.

California State Disability Insurance (SDI)

If your SDI claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Request a written explanation of the denial from the EDD.
  2. File an appeal within 20 days of receiving the written denial notice by submitting an Appeal Form (DE 1000A) to the address specified on the form.
  3. Attend a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), where you can present evidence and testimony supporting your claim.
  4. If the ALJ upholds the denial, you may further appeal to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (CUIAB) and, ultimately, the California Superior Court.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

If your SSDI claim is denied, the SSA provides a four-level appeals process:

  1. Reconsideration: Request a review of your claim by a different claims examiner within 60 days of receiving the denial notice.
  2. Hearing By An Administrative Law Judge: If your claim is denied at the reconsideration stage, you can request a hearing before an ALJ within 60 days.
  3. Appeals Council Review: If you disagree with the ALJ's decision, you can request a review by the SSA's Appeals Council within 60 days.
  4. Federal Court Review: If the Appeals Council denies your request or upholds the denial, you can file a lawsuit in a federal district court within 60 days.

Understanding How Does Disability Work In CA

Understanding how does disability work in CA is essential for individuals who need financial assistance due to a temporary or permanent disability. By familiarizing yourself with the eligibility requirements, application procedures, and appeals processes for both SDI and SSDI programs, you can better navigate the complex world of disability insurance and secure the benefits you need to maintain your quality of life.

You can discover what other benefits you can get along with SSDI benefits by visiting Disability Help and checking out our more of our helpful guides on disability and social security benefits.

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Chloe Powers
Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
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