How to Qualify for Disability Benefits in California
January 29, 2024 · 3 min read
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Benefits programs are available if you are a California resident unable to work because of an injury or illness. California is one of five states with a short-term disability insurance program. If you cannot work because of a non-work-related injury or illness, you can receive partial wage replacement benefits from the state for up to a year.
For long-term benefits and healthcare coverage, you can apply for Social Security disability programs. The Social Security Administration’s federal programs include Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.
We’ll walk you through the eligibility requirements and how to qualify for these benefits programs below.
How to qualify for State Disability Insurance in California
California offers short-term wage replacement to eligible workers through its State Disability Insurance program, SDI for short. The California state disability program provides partial wage replacement benefits to individuals unable to work because of a non-work-related injury or illness or disabilities related to a normal pregnancy or childbirth.
Eligibility requirements for DI benefits:
You are unable to perform your regular and customary work for at least eight days
You lost wages due to your condition or, if unemployed, have been looking for work
You received medical care and treatment from a licensed physician or accredited religious practitioner within the first eight days of your disability
This state program also includes Paid Family Leave benefits. Most California employees are covered by SDI, but there are a few exceptions, like government workers, some employees of non-profit organizations, and self-employed workers.
How much are SDI benefits?
In 2024, the maximum weekly SDI benefits in California is $1,620. Your exact payment amount is an average of your past highest quarterly earnings before your disability began.
The day your claim begins determines your "base period." The state examines this period and reviews the wages subject to SDI tax paid within the 5 to 18 months following your disability onset.
According to the SSA, more than eight million Californians receive SDI benefits, with an average monthly payment of $1,340.86.
How to qualify for SSDI
The Social Security Disability Insurance program is what it sounds like — an insurance program. Like insurance, workers “pay premiums” with federal taxes, and that money becomes available to them if they have a qualifying medical condition and can no longer work.
Eligibility for SSDI is based on work credits. You earn one credit for every $1,730 in your paycheck, either from self-employment or wages. To qualify for SSDI, you typically need 40 work credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years.
SSDI benefits include monthly payments and Medicare coverage. In 2024, the maximum benefit amount is $3,822 per month. In California, the average monthly payment amount for SSDI is $1,524. The exact payment amount depends on several factors, including your work history and how much you’ve paid into Social Security over the years.
How to qualify for Supplemental Security Income
Supplemental Security Income, SSI for short, is a need-based program. To qualify for SSI, you must:
Be blind or have a medical condition that will keep you out of work for at least a year
Have less than $943 per month in countable income, or $1,415 if you’re married
Have less than $2,000 in countable assets or $3,000 if you are married
SSI beneficiaries get monthly benefit payments and Medicaid coverage. The maximum monthly benefit amount for SSI in 2024 is $943.
Read our SSI breakdown to learn more about what the Social Security Administration considers countable assets and income.
Match with a trusted disability lawyer in California
Medical conditions that qualify for disability in California
You must have a qualifying medical condition or impairment that meets the Social Security Administration's "definition of disability” to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
According to the SSA’s latest data on California disability recipients, the most common conditions to qualify in the state are:
Mental disorders: 36.2%
Diseases of the musculoskeletal system: 28.4%
Diseases of the nervous system: 10.6%
Diseases of the circulatory system: 5.9%
Neoplasms (cancers): 3.4%
Diseases of the Genito-urinary system: 2.5%
Endocrine nutritional and metabolic diseases: 2.0%
Congenital Abnormalities: 0.8%
Infectious and parasitic diseases: 1.4%
Diseases of the digestive system: 1.4%
Diseases of the respiratory system: 1.2%
Diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs 0.2%
Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue: 0.2%
Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: 7.2%
The Social Security Disability Blue Book, known as the SSA Blue Book, is a list of medical qualifications and the criteria for eligibility. Even if the Blue Book does not list your medical condition, you can apply for benefits if you can prove you cannot work due to your condition.
Do you need a disability lawyer in California?
The Social Security Administration does not require applicants to have a disability lawyer, but it’s advisable to have one. A disability lawyer can help gather medical records, complete paperwork, prepare you for a hearing, and even represent you in court.
More than 80% of disability applicants have a lawyer at the hearing stage, and working with a lawyer increases your chances of winning benefits by three times.
Atticus works with several law firms throughout California, including:
Potter, Cohen, Samulon & Padilla
3852 E Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, California 91107
Disability Advocates Group
17525 Ventura Blvd., Encino, California 91316
Hadley and Fraulob
2207 J St., Sacramento, California 95816
FAQs about disability in California
How do I qualify for disability in California?
To qualify for disability you need to have a condition that prevents you from working for at least a year. You’ll also need to meet certain work history requirements (for SSDI) or be within certain income limits (for SSI). For more on these requirements, read our full write up here.
What conditions qualify for disability in California?
Any condition that will prevent you from working for a year or more can qualify for disability benefits. Some of the most common conditions include musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, nervous system diseases, and circulatory system diseases. See our full list of conditions that qualify here.
How long does it take to get approved for disability in California?
It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in California. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes around two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits
How much does disability pay in California?
The average SSDI payment in California is $1,395.93 per month. The average SSI payment is $765.06 per month. What you’ll earn is dependent on your income, or the amount you’ve historically paid into the Social Security program. Read more on what amount you can expect.
How should I prepare my disability application in California?
Answer the application questions truthfully, consistently, and succinctly. You should also ensure that you gather and submit all your medical records with your application. The SSA paperwork can be complicated, so our legal team has written a full guide to the application here.
Does California have a state disability program?
Yes, California is one of the five states with its own state disability program. Residents can apply for California Disability Insurance, which offers payments for up to 52 weeks (one year). Work injuries aren’t covered, though. If your injury will keep you out of work longer, you can still apply for SSDI and SSI. Read more about the difference between SSDI and SSI here.
How to Apply for Disability Benefits in California
By Jackie Jakab
Types of Disability Benefits in California
See what you qualify for
How long has your condition made it hard to work?
Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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