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Pennsylvania disability benefits guide

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
May 10, 2024  ·  2 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 has helped over 50,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

See if you qualify

According to the Social Security Administration, nearly 8 million Pennsylvania residents receive federal disability. Being eligible for disability benefits should be straightforward: You’re too sick or injured to continue working. However, the application process is complicated.

We’ll break down the SSA’s rules for eligibility, how to qualify for federal programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and how to increase your chances of receiving benefits. 

What qualifies for disability benefits in Pennsylvania?

The Social Security Administration follows a 5-step evaluation process to assess how your medical condition affects your ability to work and ultimately determine whether or not you are eligible for disability benefits. 

Over 420,000 residents in Pennsylvania receive disability for injuries and medical conditions. The most common condition falls under mental disorders (34%), including intellectual disorders, depressive and bipolar-related disorders, and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia

The 5-step sequential disability evaluation process

To determine eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA follows a methodical 5-step evaluation process to assess your work capability and medical condition.

  1. Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA): SGA refers to any work you do for money that requires physical or mental activity. As of 2024, the Social Social Administration will consider your work as SGA if you earn more than $1,550 a month (if you are blind, then the SGA is $2,590). If you exceed the SGA limit, you may be disqualified from receiving disability benefits.  

  2. Severe impairment: The SSA considers the medical severity of your condition. An impairment is deemed severe if it interferes with basic work-related activities (i.e. pushing, pulling, walking, standing) and lasts more than a year. 

  3. SSA definition of disability: The SSA’s Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, better known as the Blue Book, lists all the conditions that qualify for benefits. If you don’t see your condition listed, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically ineligible. Newer conditions, such as “long Covid” aren’t listed in the Blue Book, but it can still meet the SSA’s criteria if you can successfully prove your inability to work. 

  4. Previous work: The SSA will compare your current work capacity to the work you’ve previously performed in the last 15 years. The SSA will also assess your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), which is the amount of work you can complete despite your mental or physical limitations. This step is especially important for applicants under the age of 50.

  5. Other work: The SSA determines your ability to do additional work based on age, educational background, and previous and current work experience. 

How to qualify for SSDI

The SSA offers two federal disability benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

SSDI provides monthly payments and free health care to disabled workers. To qualify for SSDI, you must:  

  • Meet the SSA’s criteria for disability. 

  • Prove you have a medical condition that has kept you out of work for at least a year.

  • Have worked at least 5 of the last 10 years (and regularly paid Social Security taxes).

How to qualify for SSI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program that offers health insurance and monthly income to those unable to work. 

To qualify for medical eligibility under SSI, you must: 

  • Prove that you have an impairment or medical condition that has kept you out of work for at least a year. 

  • Have less than $2,000 in current assets and limited income ($3,000 if you’re married).


How much does disability pay in Pennsylvania?

As of 2024, the maximum payment for SSDI benefits is $3,822 a month or $943 in SSI benefits. In Pennsylvania, the average SSDI payment for disabled workers is $1,777 per month; the average SSI payment is $631.22.

If you want to find out the exact amount you can receive in disability pay, follow our step-by-step guide and create an SSA account, or try our calculator below.

Estimate your disability benefit amount in just a few steps

We'll use the Social Security Administration's formula to estimate your monthly benefit.

Average
monthly check

$1,489


Do I need a disability lawyer in Pennsylvania?

While the SSA doesn’t require applicants to have a disability lawyer, working with one can be highly beneficial. You are three times likelier to win your disability benefits case with the help of a disability lawyer. 

A disability lawyer can: 

  • Help you fill out and submit your application with ease. 

  • Determine which medical condition(s) will most likely qualify for disability benefits based on the SSA’s 5-step evaluation process.

  • Legally represent and prepare you for the judge’s questions before your court hearing. 

  • File for an appeal if the SSA denies your disability claim.


Get help with your disability application

If you’re a Pennsylvanian applying for disability benefits, we can simplify the process. Our 2-minute quiz will determine your eligibility. Call us, and an Atticus client advocate can advise you about your disability claim. If you’d like, Atticus can introduce you to a lawyer who can help you with your case. 

Atticus lawyers in PA

Here are a few of the Atticus firms in Pennsylvania:

Osterhout Berger Disability Law

Attorney Ruth Kolb of Kolb Legal

Chermol & Fishman

521 Cedar Way, Suite 200, Oakmont, Pennsylvania 15139

434 Allegheny River Blvd. STE 215 Oakmont, PA 15139

11450 Bustleton Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19116

Frequently asked questions about benefits in Pennsylvania

What qualifies you for disability in Pennsylvania?

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 Pennsylvania?

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 Pennsylvania?

It takes an average of 6.1 months to get an initial disability decision in Pennsylvania. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes just over two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits

How much does disability pay in Pennsylvania?

The average SSDI payment in Pennsylvania is $1,777.47 per month. The average SSI payment is $631.22. What you’ll earn depends 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 Pennsylvania?

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 Pennsylvania have a state disability program?

No, Pennsylvania doesn't have its own state disability program. Only five states have a state program (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island). Residents of Pennsylvania can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI). Read more about SSDI and SSI here.


Related resources for disability applicants in Pennsylvania:

Disability in Pennsylvania: How to Qualify, Apply, and Get Approved

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

Disability lawyers in Pennsylvania

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

See what you qualify for

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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