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Disability in Florida: What You Should Know About Applying for Benefits

Jackie Jakab, Attorney
By Jackie Jakab, Attorney

How do you file for disability in Florida? Should you apply for short-term disability, SSDI, SSI, or all of the above? 

The path to benefits isn’t always clear. But the outcome can be life-changing. And you’re not alone: 609,107 people currently receive social security disability benefits in Florida.

In this article, we’ll outline everything you should know about qualifying and applying for disability in Florida. We’ll also breakdown how long the process takes, and how much you can expect to receive if you’re approved. 

Federal, Private, and State Disability Programs in Florida

Florida doesn’t have a state-wide disability program (only five states do!). But you can still apply for, and qualify for, private or national disability benefits. 

Here are the programs people with disabilities most often qualify for:

1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI supports Americans who can no longer work due to a medical condition. As the name suggests, it’s run by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You qualify if you’ve worked and paid taxes, and the amount you receive monthly depends largely on how much you’ve historically paid in. 

Generally if you’ve worked for five of the last ten years, you qualify for SSDI. And the more you’ve earned, the more you’ll make with SSDI. 

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): If you haven’t worked enough, or worked recently enough, to qualify for SSDI, you may qualify for SSI. It’s another federal program, and you use the same application to apply. SSI is only for individuals with very little income and very few assets. 

3. Long Term / Short Term Private Disability Insurance: If you (or your employer) purchased disability insurance prior to you becoming disabled—you should be able to file a claim with the private insurer. Generally, these pay out a percentage of your former paychecks for a given number of months—but the exact amount will depend on the policy you purchased.

4. Veterans Disability Benefits: If you served in the military and suffered an injury that left you unable to work, or you’re retired but have a medical condition as a result of your service, you can apply for disability benefits through Veterans Affairs. For more information, visit the VA’s disability benefits website


For the rest of this article, we’re going to focus on Social Security Disability (SSDI and SSI). When people say they’re “going on disability” they generally mean these programs. They’re also the benefit option the most people qualify for. 

It’s often necessary to apply for SSDI and SSI when trying to qualify for other programs (like most long-term disability plans). Or, they’re advantageous to apply for in conjunction with other programs (like VA benefits).  


Qualifying for disability in Florida

While being medically disabled is a requirement for SSDI and SSI—there are technical requirements (work and income) that are just as important. Here are the basic qualifications.

SSDI qualifications in Florida

To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must be under 67 years old. Also:

  • Have a disability that will last longer than one year or potentially lead to death. You cannot get SSDI benefits if you have a partial or short-term disability. 
  • Meet the requirements for “work credits” for your age. You can check your work credits by making an account at SSA.gov—but most people qualify if they’ve worked five out of the last ten years. 

More on eligibility here. 

SSI qualifications in Florida

To qualify for SSI, you must:

  • Have a disability that will last longer than one year or potentially lead to death. 
  • Having very little in terms of assets like personal or retirement savings (less than $2000, or less than $3000 if you are married).
  • Have very little or no income from any source (generally less than 1,000 per month)

More on qualifying for SSI here. 

What medical conditions qualify you for disability in Florida?

Any medical condition that prevents you from working for at least a year can qualify for disability.

Amongst these the most common conditions to qualify in Florida were:

  • Congenital Abnormalities: .5%
  • Endocrine nutritional and metabolic diseases: 2.5%
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 1.9%
  • Injuries 3.5%
  • Mental disorders: 29.5%
  • Neoplasms: 3.6%
  • Diseases of the blood and blood forming organs .4%
  • Diseases of the circulatory system: 7.8%
  • Diseases of the digestive system: 1.7%
  • Diseases of the genito-urinary system: 1.5%
  • Diseases of the musculo-skeletal system: 29.3%
  • Diseases of the nervous system: 10.6%
  • Diseases of the respiratory system: 3.8%
  • Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue:  .2%
  • Other: .2%
  • Unknown: 2.1%

Amongst the mental disorders the most common conditions were:

  • Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders (68,469 people)
  • Intellectual disorders (39,827 people)
  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders (27,939 people)

If your condition falls into any of these categories and prevents you from being able to work, the SSA will likely award you disability benefits. If you have a particularly severe condition (stage 4 cancer, ALS), you may be on the compassionate allowance list—which automatically qualifies you for benefits, assuming you meet the work or income requirements.  

How to apply for disability in Florida

You can apply for disability benefits with the help of a lawyer, or on your own. Most often, you’ll file the application, and be asked to submit some supplementary documentation on your work history, your day-to-day functioning, and the treatment you receive for your condition. 

How do I submit an application? 

There are three ways to submit an application for disability benefits: 

If you’re not applying with a lawyer, it’s generally helpful to apply at the SSA office. They won’t give you legal advice, but can advise you on how to answer the application questions accurately. 

How should I prepare my application?

It takes most people hours to submit an application because of the documentation required. If you’re working with a lawyer, they can request your medical records and make sure you have everything you need to apply. If you’re applying on your own:

  • Gather your records. This includes medical records, contact information for doctors, work history, education records, bank account information, and other documents you will need to include with your application. 
  • Fill out and submit the application and include supplemental documents and forms. When filling out the forms, be very clear and specific about your limitations and pain level while remaining realistic. It’s also critical to make sure that you’re consistent with your answers between forms, as they often ask similar questions. 
  • Follow-up with SSA right after you submit. Sometimes applications get lost, and the SSA has a lot of claims to get through. You’ll want to confirm they have received and are processing your application. 
  • Respond to any requests from SSA immediately. They may ask for supplemental information or request that you see a SSA doctor. You will typically have 10 days to submit documentation. 

Again, your lawyer should fill out your application for you (the right way), and confirm receipt with the SSA. (If you’d like more advice on how to fill out the initial application, or how you can find the right lawyer—Atticus gives legal advice for free). 

What comes next?

While some people have their application accepted at the initial decision stage, ~69.3% are rejected, and have to file for reconsideration. ~91% of reconsiderations are also rejected, and applicants request a hearing with an administrative law judge. 

At a hearing, nearly 50% of people win benefits—and your odds increase threefold if you work with a lawyer. We wrote at length about what to expect at a hearing and your chances of winning your appeal

How does disability pay in Florida?

Average disability (SSDI) amount in Florida

The average monthly benefit for SSDI recipients in Florida is $1,201.00 per month (according to the most recent SSA data). This was slightly less than the nationwide average of $1,277.05.

Again, your SSDI amount is dependent on your work history. Luckily, you can figure out exactly what your monthly check would be by creating a SSA.gov account. To create an account: 

  • Visit SSA.gov
  • Click “mySocialSecurity”
  • Create an account using your Social Security number
  • Scroll down to the section titled “Disability”

Average SSI amount in Florida

The maximum you can receive for SSI nationwide is $841 per month. The SSA will subtract any other regular monthly income from this amount. So you’ll either earn $841, or $841 minus other income sources (ie. stocks and investments, SNAP benefits, part-time work, etc.)

The average monthly SSI payment in Florida is ​​$567.70 per month in 2020, just below the national average of $568.13.

How long does it take to get disability benefits in Florida? 

Given how frequently initial applications are denied, it can take several months to a year or more to start receiving benefits.

In 2021, to receive an initial decision took an average of 5.5 months (165 days), and the time to process your reconsideration was 4.9 months (147 days).

The time you wait for your hearing date depends on your SSA hearing office. Here are the average wait times for the hearing offices in Florida: 

Office

Wait time

Fort Lauderdale

8 months

Fort Myers

7 months

Jacksonville

9 months

Miami

13 months

Orlando

8.5 months

St Petersburg

11 months

Tallahassee

9 months

Tampa

10 months

Adding up the above, it takes 1.65 years to get disability benefits in Florida—plus any additional time you take to send in additional paperwork, file reconsideration, and request a hearing. Most applicants will take around two years to go from application to final decision. 

Sending the SSA your documentation as soon as possible is the only way to speed up this process—so it’s important to meet deadlines, and get forms and medical records their way as fast as possible. Your lawyer can help you stay on track, and will call to confirm the SSA has all the information they need. 

Florida disability lawyers: How to find the right lawyer

When you’re applying, disability attorneys can save you from critical application missteps and save you weeks of paperwork. At the hearing stage, they’ll cross examine witnesses from the state and help you make the best possible case before a judge. Overall, applicants with a lawyer on their side are three times more likely to win benefits than those without. 

If you’re looking for a Florida disability lawyer on your own, consider these key criteria before hiring:

  • Their primary area of practice: Confirm that they only take, or primarily take disability cases—so you know they’ll understand, and prioritize, your case.
  • Reviews: Make sure you really read the content of the reviews. A few bad reviews here and there shouldn’t be cause for alarm—but keep an eye out for patterns. If  you’re reading the same points over and over again, like “never calls me back” or “doesn’t show up at hearing”—this might not be a lawyer you can trust.
  • Location: Having a local lawyer could be good since they can know the local judges, and you yourself can get to know the lawyer personally. If you find a great fit that works nationally—see if they have a history of taking cases in your region.
  • Time practicing: You want to look for lawyers that have been working for a long time as there’s a higher chance of them already working on cases similar to yours. New lawyers can be good too, but they’re harder to vet without a legal background.

It can be challenging to suss out great lawyers from mediocre lawyers without a legal background. If you’d like to be matched with a lawyer who’s a great fit for your claim, Atticus can help (for free).

We’ve spent years vetting disability lawyers and have built a network of legal teams (chosen from the top 5% of firms). We trust them to treat our clients well, and to win their cases. If you want our help evaluating the right disability lawyer for you, sign up here.

Ready to get benefits today?
Jackie Jakab, Attorney
Jackie Jakab, AttorneyJackie 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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