When you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you generally start receiving benefits the first full month following your approval. In addition, you may also be eligible for something called back pay. Because the SSI approval process tends to be long, the Social Security Administration (SSA) compensates you for the period between your application date and the day of your approval.
You may wonder how SSI back pay is calculated. The total amount of your back pay will depend on the amount of your monthly award and the time it took to process and approve your application.
How Does Disability Back Pay Work?
For disability recipients, back pay comes in two forms. The first type is SSI back pay. This money covers you from your application date through the date you received approval for benefits. In other words, if you applied on May 1, 2016, but did not receive your approval until February 1, 2017, you would be eligible for back pay that covers the months of May 2016 through February 2017. That is because your regular monthly benefits would not begin until March 1, 2017.
The other kind of back pay is retroactive benefits. This type of award compensates you all the way back to the date your disability began. However, it is not available to SSI recipients. If you received approval for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you could be eligible for retroactive benefits.
How Do I Calculate My SSI Back Pay Award?
You calculate your SSI back pay by multiplying the amount of your monthly award by the number of months between your application date and approval date.
Returning to the example above, the months of May 2016 through February 2017 total 10 months. If your monthly disability award is $600, you would receive your award of $600 for each of the 10 months that elapsed between when you applied and when the SSA approved your application. In other words, you would receive a total of $6,000—or $600 per month for each of the 10 months.
Can I Receive Interest on My Back Pay?
Unfortunately, the SSA does not pay interest on back pay. That holds true for both traditional back pay as well as retroactive benefits. You will receive the flat amount of your monthly award for each month between your application date and approval date.
How Will I Receive My Back Pay Award?
There are two ways in which disability recipients receive their back pay and, if applicable, retroactive benefit awards. The first is a single lump sum payment. If you qualify for a lump sum payment, you will receive one check for your full back pay shortly after your approval. The SSA typically reserves this option for retroactive benefits from the SSDI program.
You will most likely receive your back pay in a series of three installments. Generally, you would receive the first installment shortly after approval. The following two payments would arrive at six-month intervals afterward.
There are some restrictions that limit the amount of your first two installments. The SSA will not pay more than three times the 2017 federal benefit rate of $735—or $1,103 for a couple—for these payments. They will, however, issue the remainder of your back pay in the third installment.
If you received approval for SSI and not SSDI, you will likely receive your back pay in the three-installment format. The SSA does allow for a few exceptions to this rule, however. If your doctor does not expect you to survive a terminal illness longer than 12 months, you could be eligible for a lump sum payment. If you no longer qualify for ongoing benefits and the SSA does not expect you to qualify within the next 12 months, you can also request a lump sum.
Am I Guaranteed to Receive Back Pay?
While the SSA issues no explicit guarantee, it awards back pay with nearly every SSI approval. That is because the approval process takes months or sometimes even a year or longer. The trade-off for having to wait so long for benefits is that, eventually, you will get compensation for your time.
What Can I Do If I Have Further Questions About My SSI Benefits or Back Pay?
If you have questions about your disability benefits or if you feel your back pay award is less than you deserve, you should speak with a qualified Social Security attorney for help.
At the Disability Advantage Group, our mission is helping disabled clients get the benefits they deserve. We have fought and won many disability cases on behalf of our clients and we can put our knowledge and resources to work for you.
We offer free consultations so you can meet with our disability attorneys and get answers to your questions. Call 865-566-0800 today to schedule an appointment.