When you’re temporarily unable to work for a prolonged period due to a disability, you’ll have gaps in your employment history and earn less income than usual during this time. If you subsequently apply for and are granted Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), however, this pause could affect you more than you realize: Your monthly disability benefit award would be lower than if you had no break in your work history. To avoid this issue, you need to apply for a “disability freeze” after your temporary disability ends.
What Is a Disability Freeze?
To understand the meaning of a disability freeze, you need a brief background on how the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines SSDI benefit amounts. The SSA determines benefit amounts by calculating your average monthly income for all your working years and inserting that average into a unique formula. The resulting figure is the amount you’re eligible to receive in benefits. In most cases, the higher your income, the higher the amount of disability benefits you’d be entitled to receive.
If you have a disability freeze, the SSA will exclude the period when you didn’t work or had less income due to your impairment when calculating your monthly average income. This exclusion will ultimately yield a higher benefit amount as only your higher-earning years will go toward your average income. In other words, the freeze stops you from being penalized for not working due to your medical condition.
To illustrate, let’s say that an injury or illness caused you to become temporarily disabled for 18 months. During that period, your employer’s short-term disability plan paid you 30 percent of your regular monthly wages. If you have a disability freeze, in determining your SSDI benefit amount, the SSA would exclude those low-paying 18 months from its calculation of your average monthly income. If you don’t have a disability freeze, the 18-months of low income would be included in the average, bringing down the average and thus your disability benefit amount.
Who Qualifies for a Disability Freeze?
Only people who meet specific conditions will qualify for a disability freeze. To be eligible, you must:
- Meet the SSDI work history and earnings requirements to qualify for insured status
- File for a disability freeze with the SSA within 12 months of the end of your disability
- Provide evidence of their disability during the disability period
- Meet the SSA’s definition of disabled or blind
There are limited exceptions to these criteria. Certain people who are not receiving monthly disability payments may still qualify for a disability freeze. These may include:
- People who meet the SSA’s definition of blind but who are still able to engage in substantial gainful activity
- People whose period of disability occurred while working for the U.S. railroad system or as military personnel
- Incarcerated people (under specific circumstances)
Note that the disability freeze is not available to people who receive Supplemental Security Income. This form of benefit is not based on your earnings history.
If you have any questions about whether you’re eligible for the freeze, you should speak with an experienced disability freeze attorney.
Am I Eligible for a Disability Freeze If My Condition Began Years Ago?
You may still qualify for a disability freeze if you can prove your impairment started while you had SSDI insurance benefits, even if it was several years ago.
How Can a Social Security Disability Attorney Help?
If you are currently receiving SSDI, the SSA automatically grants a disability freeze. If you are no longer receiving disability benefits, you can apply for a disability freeze by contacting the SSA directly. However, a more efficient approach would be to apply with the aid of a skilled SSDI attorney. A knowledgeable attorney with experience in obtaining disability freezes can help you navigate complex SSA rules, assess your chances of receiving a freeze, and gather the appropriate evidence. An attorney can also help you consider questions such as whether it is more beneficial to take SSDI or early retirement, or how to approach the situation if a temporary disability is likely to become a permanent condition.
Do You Need a Social Security Disability Attorney in Boston, MA?
If you are looking to apply for a disability freeze, you should speak with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer, as soon as possible. Please use our online contact form or call our Natick Office directly at 508.283.5500 to schedule your free consultation.