Social Security for my mom
July 13, 2017 12:03 PM   Subscribe

My mom is disabled, and has just turned 62. She contacted the social security office and asked if she could get social security, and they told her that there was nothing that she would be able to do.

She gets a 500 dollar a month stipend which she is not able to live on, and I have to cover most of her other bills, as I described previously here.

I had her call the social security office to see if she could draw anything else, and she was told that her disability check already was her social security. I asked her to see if she could draw social security from her ex husband, my dad. They are on good terms and he has a solid 30 year work history with one job.

When asked about that, she was told that as long as he wasn't drawing anything, she couldn't either. He is 60 years old, and technically retired from his job, but working back there again part time.

Is this the case? I don't understand how this works or how it can be considered "social security" if you can barely even make enough to keep the roof over your head. I'm super frustrated and don't know if the social security worker knows what's up or is telling her right or just dismissing her or what. She never asked for any information from my mom, she just said no. Was hoping I could get a second opinion from anyone here. Thanks.
posted by FireballForever to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
According to this page at AARP, your ex-spouse has to qualify for SS before you can begin to draw any for yourself based on their work history. So, your mother can't use it yet, but she will be able to in 2 years, even if your father does not start his claim at that time.
posted by soelo at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

As I understand the divorced spouse benefit, when your dad reaches the Social Security retirement eligibility age your mom can then file based on his benefits as long as they were married for at least ten years. Her claim won't affect his at all, in fact he doesn't even need to know about it.
posted by Floydd at 12:13 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

It may be worth contacting her state/county/city human services department, and seeing if she can meet with an eligibility worker. She might have a few other options.
posted by lazuli at 12:22 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you live, you might want to google "eldercare advisor" and the like. When this situation was happening for my husband's mom, we paid an advisor something like $800 to scope out the situation, tell us what our options were, and learn how to navigate the system. It probably saved us tens of thousands of dollars over the ensuing few years. She knew what the rules were, what you had to do to get benefits, what some other benefits were that my MIL was eligible for (X hours of home aid, paid by the state, etc.). She even figured out that by lowering a particular benefit my MIL was eligible for, by some tiny amount -- like $11 or $18 or something -- it bumped her into a lower-income category that instantly made her eligible for more benefits.

I can't say enough how much of a help this was for us.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:29 PM on July 13, 2017 [16 favorites]

Is the $500 a month Social Security Disability? That's normally somewhere over $700 right now, why is she only getting $500? Does she have $200-300 in income from somewhere else?

The Social Security office is correct in saying that she cannot get both disability and retirement. That's an age issue - you get disability before 65, and retirement after. There are complications about ex-spouse's age in this case which I don't have all the details on, so I assume people are correct in saying that her ability to collect based on her ex-husband's earnings depends on him reaching age 65.

See what state and local forms of assistance are available. Section 8 housing, EBT, state level disability benefits, etc.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:38 PM on July 13, 2017

According to that AARP link, you can't draw on both accounts:

Basically, you collect whichever benefit is higher. You can't collect both.

But if your dad's benefit would be higher, it would be beneficial for your mom to draw on that one instead.
posted by cooker girl at 12:55 PM on July 13, 2017

It's definitely not possible to draw on both disability and old-age social security at the same time, and I am doubtful that anyone would be able to draw on old-age social security at age 60 (your dad). The most likely solution would be to see about increasing your mom's disability payment, as well as seeking other sources of benefits (food stamps? housing assistance?) outside of the social security system. You might try making an in-person appointment at the SS office to talk through the details with someone in person.

You're right that funding for these things is ridiculously low, but that is more a function of the U.S. political system rather than something that can be fixed by a lowly SS office worker.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Some clarification: It sounds as if she is currently receiving Supplemental Security Income. Note that SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration but is not Social Security.

The current monthly SSI payment is $735. You mentioned $500. Either you're estimating or her benefit is being reduced because she has countable income. If she does not have other income, you should check with SSA to see why it is being reduced.

A related but separate program is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The disability requirements are the same as for SSI, but it is based on work. Many people are on both programs, but if the SSDI benefit is lower, you are essentially on SSI. (Technically you get the SSDI benefit and then an SSI top up to bring you to the $735.)

Floydd is correct, but note that she may be eligible for divorced spouse benefits when her exhusband reaches 62 (the Social Security eligibility age), not 65 (which is the Medicare eligibility age, and used to be the Social Security "full" retirement age, but never mind).

The SSA staff has to follow the law and may not be able to change the benefit level, but they should be able to explain her situation to your satisfaction.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:12 PM on July 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

There will be an Agency on Aging in the area. They should be able to help her understand her options. And/or her Congressional Representative, if things get really stalled.
- Is she getting SSI? If yes, why is it so low?
- If not, why not?
- Can she draw on her Soc. Sec. now at 62, then on her ex-husband's when he is retirement age?

She may be eligible for food stamps/SNAP.

Bureaucracy is frustrating, but you're making progress. Hang in there.
posted by theora55 at 5:09 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have an elected representative (Senator or Rep) who you feel comfortable with, you can contact their "Constituent Services" person who could also help navigate some of this or at least give her some good pointers since it concerns federal benefits.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I spoke to my mom and she is not sure, but I believe she is receiving SSDI. I asked her for the exact numbers and it's 550, after which 106 is taken out for Medicare, which leaves her with 444 dollars per month. There is no other income in the household.
posted by FireballForever at 6:46 PM on July 13, 2017

Speaking about this SSI/SSDI again has kicked some cobwebs loose for me, I remember posting to ask the last time I had that issue.

I was trying to get my mom disability benefits, and had previously determined that my mom was receiving SSDI, but wasn't receiving any other benefits because she had a retirement account that she wasn't able to cash in. I know for a fact that account was taken care of because I helped do paperwork for it, but I'm not sure now why she never received any increase in benefits. I'm going to have to inquire about that.
posted by FireballForever at 7:28 PM on July 13, 2017

SSDI/SSI provide very low amounts of income but the generally accepted thing one is supposed to do at that point is to apply for other benefits like housing assistance and SNAP. I have a number of friends in their 30s/40s on SSI or SSDI and all of them are receiving other benefits. You don't stop being eligible for every other assistance program just because you're on disability; they're meant to exist in tandem with other programs. So, like, $400/month doesn't seem like very much at all, but if you were receiving $400/month on top of what you needed to pay for an apartment, utilities, food, and health care, suddenly that amount of money looks very different. It's still not much, but it's not enough to cover housing and such because it's not meant to. Usually, disabled people and the elderly get priority for stuff like housing, too.
posted by Sequence at 8:26 PM on July 13, 2017

I don't know that all of that is universally true; in California, at least, people on SSI are ineligible for SNAP. Subsidized housing and such are the norm, though.
posted by lazuli at 9:45 PM on July 13, 2017

Definitely find out about eligibility for SSI. If you have more than $2000 in resources (basically, a complicated definition of assets), then you are not eligible for SSI. So spending that retirement account might have pushed her below the limit. Note that your home isn't included in that, but many other things are. Being eligible for SSI might also make her eligible for Medicaid, which would save the Medicare premiums.

If she is receiving SSDI, then turning 62 doesn't change anything. One she reaches the full retirement age (about 66, but varies by birth year), she would officially transfer to Social Security retirement benefits, but the benefit wouldn't change. Also, the divorced spouse benefit that she might be eligible for when her exhusband reaches 62 (regardless of whether he claims at that age), would only be half of his benefit, which might or might not be more than her current benefit.

I agree with theora55 - contact your local Agency on Aging to try to get a referral to someone local who can walk you through this and also point you to other state or local programs that she might be eligible for.

Good luck!
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:09 AM on July 14, 2017

Talk to the Agency on aging about Medicaid paying your Medicare premiums.

I am a disabled individual who just learned about this and had it done for my case. I suggest it be done in your mother’s as soon as possible. Sign her up for SNAP, Medicaid and any other benefits possible. Then ask her caseworker to take a look at signing her up for the program that pays her Medicare premiums once she is accepted into Medicaid.

Good luck. I know it may be hard relying on public programs, but that is what they are there for.

I had the toughest time coming to rely on them. It took me getting deathly ill and stone broke to break down. Pride goeth before a fall.
posted by squirbel at 7:49 PM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

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