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What to Do for Income While Waiting for Disability

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
March 31, 2023  ·  6 min read
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Getting a disability check every month is a huge help. Unfortunately, waiting to get benefits — especially Social Security Disability Insurance SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — takes years for most applicants.

There are a number of possible alternative income sources while you wait for your application to get approved, but there are also some things to watch out for. Let’s look at your options so you can pay the bills without ever losing eligibility for disability benefits.

Watch out for these income limits for SSDI and SSI

Before we get into how to bring in some extra money there are some income limits you need to know. Both SSDI and SSI have earning limits. Go over them and you may get disqualified from either program.

With SSDI, that limit comes down to your substantial gainful activity, or SGA for short. SGA is any active income you have, including from jobs. The SGA limit for 2024 is $1,550 per month (or $2,590 if you’re blind). Earning more than that could disqualify you from SSDI.

SSI doesn’t come with the same income cap, but if you earn more than about $943 of income per month, it will effectively disqualify you from getting benefits.

Passive income and the value of other benefits may not count, though. Check your income sources with this guide to what income counts for SSI.

To avoid getting disqualified from SSDI or SSI mid-application, you might want to look for income sources that aren’t necessarily a paying job. Let’s look at some of your options.

Assistance with food, housing, and legal support

There are various state and federal programs for people with disabilities, though they aren’t always easy to get and may require their own wait times.

One helpful place to start is with Benefits.gov. Filling out the initial questionnaire can take you about 30 minutes, but it tells you about different government benefits for which you may be eligible.

Your state’s Department of Social Services can also help you find state-specific food, housing programs, and childcare.

We do also have a guide with different types of resources for people with disabilities.


You deserve regular, nutritious meals even as you wait for disability benefits. For that, here are three options to explore:


Your best bet here is to start with public and subsidized housing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This HUD resource locator can identify options near you.

You can also visit your local HUD office and talk through your options with someone in-person.

Legal support

If you’re looking for legal support specifically for your housing — if you’re facing eviction, for example — check out LawHelp.org.

For more general legal support, try your local chapter of the Legal Aid Society. This organization operates offices all over the country to provide free legal aid.

And if you need help specifically with your Social Security disability case, your best option is a disability lawyer. Atticus can get you started with finding a lawyer through our disability benefits quiz. (Getting matched is free and you never pay the lawyer unless your disability application gets approved).

You only pay a lawyer if they win you benefits. There are no upfront costs.

Short-term disability insurance

While you’re waiting for your federal disability application to process, you might be able to get short-term disability insurance through your state. That said only five states offer these programs in 2023:

  • California

  • Hawaii

  • New Jersey

  • New York

  • Rhode Island

If you’re fortunate enough to live in one of those states, you can learn more about short-term disability insurance here.

Private disability benefits

Many employers offer private short-term or long-term disability insurance policies at no cost to you. Double-check whether you have access to a policy and what it covers. The catch is that to qualify for payments, you need to have a policy in place before your health condition develops.

If you bought life insurance, there is also a chance that your policy includes a disability insurance rider. Check your individual policy’s details for more details on whether your condition could qualify.

Workers’ compensation

If your disability resulted from a workplace injury or illness, workers’ compensation benefits may be an option for you. Workers’ comp includes regular payments and will cover medical bills as you recover.

However, it’s important to be careful about taking workers’ comp and applying for Social Security disability benefits at the same time. If you get workers’ compensation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) could take that as evidence that you plan to return to work and thus don’t need disability benefits yet.

The key takeaway is that workers’ comp can complicate your disability application. For advice on your specific situation, speak with a disability lawyer. They can help you get a better idea of how workers’ comp would impact your disability application, if at all.

Read more on what to watch out for when applying for disability while on workers’ comp.

Unemployment benefits

Like workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits can muddy the waters of your SSDI application.

You can certainly apply for SSDI after your unemployment benefits end, but getting unemployment and disability benefits at the same time could disqualify you from SSDI.

In the eyes of the SSA, taking unemployment indicates that you’re able to and plan to return to work. But to have a successful disability claim, you need the SSA to decide that you can’t work.

For advice specific to your situation, talk to a disability lawyer. They can explain whether your unemployment benefits will hurt your SSDI application.

Build a winning strategy for your disability application.

Personal loans

On the one hand, a loan can provide you with the cash you need to get through this transitory time. On the other, your disability application isn’t guaranteed to get approved.

If it isn’t and you have to make loan payments as you go through appeals, you could be adding more financial stress to your plate.

It’s also important to know that even though some lenders offer a “disability loan,” it’s really just a personal loan. Personal loans usually come with high interest rates, which means repaying them will only get harder with each passing week and month.

So while a loan is an option, they aren’t the best option in many cases and you may want to consider them as a last resort. Far too many people take out a loan for short-term help only to end up with long-term debt.

Managing your existing debt

If medical debt, credit card debt, car/student loan payments, overdue mortgage payments, or any other kind of debt has you stressing while you wait for your SSDI application to get approved, you can get proactive.

To start, call all of your creditors (anyone who’s lent you money). Yes, this will take time. You’ll need to sit on hold and probably make repeat calls. But it can pay off.

Once you get someone on the line, explain that you’re having a difficult time making payments. A lot of lenders and medical institutions offer hardship extensions, meaning they may be able to adjust your payments temporarily.

When you have them on the phone, you can also propose a different repayment plan — or even a settlement for a lump sum. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a detailed debt negotiation overview to help you further explore your options here.

If you’re dealing with high-interest debt like credit card balances, you might also benefit from looking into debt consolidation. With this option, you take out a loan — usually through something like a debt consolidation loan or equity in your home if you own your place — and use it to pay off your high-interest debt. Then, you just have the one loan to manage.

However, before taking out any loans, always make sure that you understand what the repayment plan is, what the interest rate is, and whether you think you can actually make those payments. A lot of places that offer debt consolidation are actually predatory, so do your homework.

Where to get help filing a disability appeal

Another stressor you’ll probably deal with during the disability application is a denial from the SSA. Most applications don’t get approved on the first go. In fact, about 75% of people get denied initially and then need to go through multiple rounds of appeal.

But don’t panic. Getting a denial on your initial application or reconsideration is common. Your odds of approval will actually go up if you appeal all the way to the hearing stage. The odds of winning are also three times higher if you work with a lawyer.

Whether you’re submitting your application for the first time or you’ve already been denied, it’s well worth talking to a disability pro. We have a quick questionnaire you can use to get connected to the right person. (Getting matched with a lawyer is free and you never have to pay anything until after you win disability benefits. If you don’t win, you won’t have to pay the lawyer.)

Relieve yourself of paperwork stress. Get help from a lawyer.

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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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