The State of California has a disability program that is available to workers who are unable to work due to an injury, illness or pregnancy. This program is called State Disability Insurance (SDI) and is managed under the California Employment Development Department (commonly called EDD). This is the same state agency that manages unemployment benefits. State disability benefits are to be considered short term disability benefits as they can be paid to qualified workers for up to a one year period. SDI benefits are completely separate from Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, which is a federal program under the Social Security Administration.
Many people apply for SDI benefits thinking that their injury or illness will not be long term and hope to return to work. Then they discover that their condition is more serious or complicated and may last longer than the one year for which SDI benefits can be paid. What is important to know is that you can apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) while you are receiving SDI.
A couple of items are very important: First you can qualify for SDI benefits if your doctor certifies that you have a condition and that you are presently unable to work for a period of time. This certification of disability is not sufficient evidence of disability for Social Security disability purposes. Social Security regulations require a much more comprehensive review of the medical records. Social Security qualification also takes in to account other factors, such as your age, level of education and work background in deciding whether you qualify.
Second, while SDI benefits are normally started quickly after you apply, a Social Security disability application is typically a much slower process. After the first application, it may take up to six months (and in some cases even longer) to receive an initial decision. If you are denied and have to appeal, it may take more than two years before your claim is finally approved. Because of this slow process, you should not wait until your SDI benefits run out before applying for Social Security disability. As soon as you believe that your condition will prevent you from working for more than a year, that is the time to start the Social Security disability application.
While you can receive both SDI and Social Security benefits at the same time or for the same time period, your SDI benefits may affect the amount of your SSDI payment. For any month that you qualify to receive both benefits, the combination of the two payments cannot total more than 80% of your pre-disability earnings. To the extent that the combined benefits exceed this limit, your Social Security benefit will be reduced.
My recommendation is that as soon as you think your disabling condition will last more than 12 months, you should contact a Social Security disability attorney to discuss your case. A disabling condition has a dramatic effect on your life, and you should have as much information as possible about programs that can help you. Contact me for your free consulation to discuss your specific situation.