What Are the SSA Grid Rules for Disability Benefits, and How Do They Work?

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) designed its method of evaluating people’s claims for disability benefits, they decided to make it easier to be approved for benefits the closer you get to retirement age.

So Social Security uses a grid that combines your age, education, work experience, physical capabilities, skills, and transferability of skills to different work, to declare whether they think you can perform substantial work—and deny you for disability benefits —or whether it’s clear that you can’t work and should therefore win benefits.

One of the main results is that people over age 50 are more likely to be awarded disability benefits.

If health problems have knocked you out of commission for work, it’s important to understand these SSA grid rules because they may determine whether you can get monthly income support, Medicare health coverage, and a more stable financial situation for you to take care of yourself.

As a Green Bay and Appleton disability lawyer who works with this system every day, I wrote this article to help people in the Fox Valley and Northeast Wisconsin understand the Social Security grid rules. Keep reading to see how it may affect your age group.

SSA Grid Rules & People Under 50

Thanks to the Social Security grid rules, if you’re under 50 years old and you’re literate, your ways of qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits are more limited.

In fact, you only have two options:

1) You could meet a “medical listing,” which means that your health condition meets a highly specific and concrete medical standard. Perfectly fitting this kind of standard, however, is rather rare.

2) Alternately, you can show that you are incapable of competitive employment, which means there is no job in the national economy that you can do on a full-time sustained basis because of the effects of your illnesses or injuries. For example, someone who will likely miss more than two days of work per month because of migraines or depression might meet this standard.

Social Security Grid Rules for People Over 50

When Social Security evaluates your health problems to see if you qualify for disability benefits, claims examiners will look at the physical level of intensity of different jobs you could do, including types of work they call “light” and “sedentary.”

Under Social Security Disability rules after age 50, they will find that you have a qualifying disability if you are incapable of any of your past work—and even if you did a new kind of work, you now are limited to sedentary work.

Social Security says sedentary work is defined as work which, “involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567 (a)

A younger person who they deem able to do sedentary work may be denied disability benefits. But over 50, your chances of winning benefits are greater.

Social Security Disability Over 55: Odds of Winning Go Up

At age 55, Social Security will find you have an official disability for the purposes of awarding benefits if you are limited to “light work” and are incapable of any of your past relevant work.

Social Security defines light work as work which “involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, we (the SSA) determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567 (b)

A person between 50 and 55 who is limited to light work may still be denied disability benefits. But someone over 55 who can only do light work may still be approved, showing how your odds of winning Social Security Disability keep going up with age.

Some provisions under the grid rules allow a person to be found to have a disability even though they are capable of work more strenuous than light duty work. But such occurrences are extremely rare.

SSA Grid Rules & the Medical Vocational Allowance

When you get approved for Social Security Disability benefits under the grid rules that give extra weight to age for people over 50, what you’re likely receiving is what’s called a “medical-vocational allowance.”

That means you didn’t meet the specific guidelines of a particular impairment laid out in Social Security’s listing of impairments.

And you didn’t have to, because your everyday level of functioning, regardless of which medical conditions you have, makes it impossible to work when also considering your age and likelihood of being able switch to new lines of work.

Sometimes, a person who appears to meet Social Security grid rules is found not to have a qualifying disability because they have transferable skills. I’ll discuss transferable skills in my next blog post.

If you’re a Wisconsin resident wondering whether you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, and how your age affects your chances, you can contact Geary Disability law for a free case consultation .

Written by Tim Geary.

Disclaimer: Blog entries are not intended to be a substitute for actual legal advice. It is important for a representative to understand the specific facts and circumstances of your case before they can provide you actual legal advice. If you have questions about your Social Security Disability benefits, please contact a qualified representative to discuss your case.

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