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Types of Disability Benefits in California

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
January 29, 2024  ·  3 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

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California residents have options when it comes to applying for disability benefits. In addition to federal Social Security benefits, California is one of five states with a short-term disability insurance program. 

The programs you qualify for depend on your work history and medical condition. In this article, we’ll walk through the different disability programs and eligibility requirements to help you find which one is right for you.


What types of disability benefits are available in California?

There are disability programs for California residents at the state and federal levels. If you’re a Californian and unable to work due to a non-work-related medical condition, you might consider applying for:

  1. California Disability Insurance: If you are unable to work because of a non-work-related injury or illness, you may qualify for California Disability Insurance. DI benefits provide partial wage replacement — typically 60-70% of your former wages — for a maximum of 52 weeks.
  2. Social Security Disability Insurance: If you are no longer able to work because of a medical condition, you might qualify for SSDI. Eligibility for this federal program, administered by the Social Security Administration, depends on your work history and Social Security tax payments.
  3. Supplemental Security Income: SSI is designed for individuals with limited resources and little to no work history. This federal program is need-based, and you may qualify if you are unable to work because of a disability and meet the income requirements. 
  4. Veterans disability benefits: If you served in the military and experienced an injury or illness while on active service, you may qualify for veterans benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 
  5. Private insurance: You may be able to file a claim with a private insurer if you or your employer purchased disability insurance before you became disabled. These short- and long-term policies cover a percentage of your income. The payment amounts and the duration of coverage depend on the policy.

If you have an illness or injury related to your workplace, you might be able to receive workers’ compensation benefits. You can learn more about workers’ comp here. 

Match with a trusted disability lawyer in California

What is the difference between SDI and disability?

State Disability Insurance (SDI) and federal disability programs provide benefits for individuals who are unable to work due to a medical condition. Here are the main differences between the state and federal programs:

Eligibility requirements

To qualify for DI benefits, you must have an injury or illness that keeps you out of work for at least eight days. You must receive medical care from a licensed physician within the first eight days of your disability. Finally, you must have paid a certain amount in SDI taxes before becoming disabled.

SSDI eligibility is based on work credits. You receive one credit for every $1,730 in your paycheck, including both wages and self-employment income. Generally, you need 40 credits to qualify, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you became disabled.

SSI is a need-based program and does not factor in your work history. To qualify, you must have very few assets — less than $2,000, or $3,000 if you are married. Learn more about the income restrictions here.

Approval timeline

You can anticipate a two-week waiting period before receiving DI benefits. The application process includes a seven-day unpaid waiting period before your DI benefits start. 

The approval process for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income is considerably longer, often taking more than two years after applying. After approval, SSDI has a five-month waiting period before your benefits begin. SSI does not have a waiting period.

Payment amounts

DI benefits typically cover 60-70% of your former wages, for a maximum of $1,620 per week. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays a maximum of $3,822 per month, and Supplemental Security Income checks are a max of $943 a month. In California, the average SSDI payment is $1,524 per month, and the SSI payment is $578.62.

Duration of coverage

You can receive DI benefits for a maximum of 52 weeks. If you suspect your condition will keep you out of work for more than a year, you should apply for SSDI or SSI benefits. 

SSDI and SSI provide benefits indefinitely, or until you reach retirement age, at which point your disability benefits will become retirement benefits. 


Can I apply for more than one disability program in California?

Yes, you can apply for both State Disability Insurance and Social Security disability benefits. California SDI is a limited program, meaning you can only receive partial wage replacement benefits for up to 52 weeks. 

If you will be unable to work for more than a year because of your condition, you should also apply for Social Security disability benefits.

You can apply for SSDI and SSI with the same application. There’s one major benefit to applying for both: SSDI has a waiting period for benefits to begin, while SSI does not. In some cases, receiving an SSI check while waiting for your SSDI benefits can be extremely helpful.

Do I need a disability lawyer in California?

No, the Social Security Administration does not require disability applicants to have a lawyer. However, working with a disability lawyer streamlines the application process and triples your chances of winning. More than 80% of applicants have a lawyer at a disability hearing.

Take our 2-minute disability quiz to see if you might qualify for benefits. A team member will follow up with you to learn more about your case and offer advice. Atticus can also match you with a highly qualified disability attorney if you are interested.

A lawyer can help obtain medical records, fill out your paperwork, and represent you in a disability hearing. Most of all, lawyers take the stress out of the application process.

Don't just take our word for it, hear from one of our California clients: "I really needed someone to step in on my behalf. And that's what I got when I called Atticus."

Client Maria G. shares a positive review of her experience with Atticus.

SSA offices in California

To find your local SSA office, click the link below:

Alhambra

900 S Garfield Ave. Alhambra, CA 91801

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 227-6561

Fax Number: (833) 902-2602

Anaheim

900 S Harbor Blvd  Anaheim, CA 92805

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 657-3133

Fax Number: (833) 950-2748

Antioch

2508 Verne Roberts Circle Antioch, CA 94509

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 331-2324

Fax Number: (833) 950-3669

Auburn

11855 Edgewood Rd  Auburn, CA 95603

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 931-6087

Fax Number: (833) 571-0640

Bakersfield

2575 Haley Street Bakersfield, CA 93305

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 366-9558

Fax Number: (833) 950-3383

Bakersfield

5300 Office Park Drive Bakersfield, CA 93309

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 476-1489

Fax Number: (833) 940-2147

Berkeley

2045 Allston Way  Berkeley, CA 94704

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (877) 531-4696

Fax Number: (833) 950-2448

Brea

3230 E Imperial Highway Suite 150 1st Floor Brea, CA 92821

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 593-2757

Fax Number: (833) 902-2594

See all California SSA offices


Disability lawyers in California

Atticus works with several law firms in 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.

Related resources:

How to Apply for Disability Benefits in California

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By Jackie Jakab

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits in California

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By Jackie Jakab

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How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

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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