How can I stay afloat while waiting for Social Security benefits?

Submitted by Chris on Tue, 03/02/2021 - 14:41

Are you struggling to make ends meet? Are you asking yourself if you should file for unemployment or Social Security disability benefits? The disability application and review processes are time consuming. If you’ve been denied benefits and can't work then the wait can be even longer, as you will need to file an appeal. Making ends meet while you wait for a decision can be challenging. There are resources available for you to help you stay afloat and earn income while waiting for disability approval. Here are some tips to help you get through while waiting for Social Security disability.

Tip #1: Work While Waiting For Social Security Approval

It is possible to work and also file for disability benefits, though this is a tricky matter. Any work you do must not be the type or volume that will disqualify you for benefits. Additionally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has two types of disability benefits for which you may apply. Each program has its own financial eligibility thresholds.

  • With Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you cannot earn more than what is considered “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. For 2021, SGA is set at $1,310 per month.
  • With Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you cannot have significant income or other assets, as this is a need-based program. Only certain income and assets count toward eligibility and the calculation of countable income and assets is complex.

Any income from employment is likely to put your eligibility for SSI at risk, but income from employment may or may not affect SSDI eligibility. A disability advocate or attorney can help you understand how working in particular kinds of jobs or a certain number of hours may affect your eligibility.

elderly man with cane

Tip #2: Apply for Other Types of Support While Waiting For Disability

While you wait for disability benefits to be approved, consider seeking assistance through other local, state, and federal support programs. These may include:

  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Short term or temporary disability benefits are also available in a few states, including California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

Your home state may have additional programs for which you may qualify. The local family social services office or Department of Social Services is the place to start. A social worker with one of these agencies will be able to assist you in completing applications for any programs available to you.

Tip #3: Find Other Sources of Support or Financial Assistance

Keep in mind that you may have other sources of financial assistance you can tap into while you wait for benefits.

  • If you own a home, you may be able to refinance or take out a home equity loan.
  • If you have friends or family who are willing and able to help, consider accepting their assistance.
  • You may be able to borrow against or cash out a 401k or life insurance plan.

These types of measures may seem extreme, but your financial circumstance may make it necessary for you to take aggressive steps to ensure you’re able to get by while you wait for disability benefits.


Can I Get Unemployment Benefits and Social Security Disability?

NO. Unemployment benefits are a source of income for any people who find themselves without work, but these benefits are often not a practical solution for people awaiting a disability determination from the SSA. This is because Unemployment is a program for people who expect to be able to work at some point in the near future. Disability benefits on the other hand are designed for people who anticipate being unable to work for a year or longer.

These programs fundamentally contract one another, so even an application for Unemployment may cause you to be denied disability benefits. In addition, if you are eventually approved for disability benefits and your recently received Unemployment benefits, then you may end up having to pay back any Unemployment payments you received.

Speeding up the Disability Application and Review Processes

To a certain extent, the time it takes to get a decision on your disability claim is out of your hands. However, having a disability attorney on your side can make the process of applying and appealing run more smoothly. He or she can help you build a stronger and clearer claim for benefits too, which in turn can lead to a faster approval.

Blog comments

Kami (not verified)

In reply to by Joanne Marsello (not verified)

I got denied in Jan and filed an appeal in Jan. I've worked since I was 18. I'm 43 now. This past Sept, I had to go on FMLA because of my back and I suffer from major depressive disorder, panic attacks and anxiety disorder. Had surgery in Oct, for 1 wk, I was not in pain. I was thanking God. The next Monday, I turned over in the bed and felt a pop in my back. I was in excruciating pain. Neurosurgeon sd the next step would be a spinal fusion, but he didn't recommend it for me due to my mental state. Thankfully, my dad has helped me, but he is on social security and VA benefits. It's a struggle. I did get on food stamps or I think it's called SNAP. Blessed with that. I have always PD my bills on time. I even called my creditors to explain my situation. 1 is working with me. I recd a civil summons last night from 1. I called my disability attorney and my state rep this morning. I had to leave msgs. I'm praying for some help. Believe me, if I could work, I'd be back in a second. I've had so called friends and family say I was lazy. That hurt so bad. My Mom and Twin sister passed a few years ago. Both were homebound and sick. Me and dad worked our schedules around so that one of us would be home to take care of them. It was very stressful, but I don't regret it. I know there are others worse than me, but I wish that these ppl making the decisions, just sat a day in our lives. Let them see what a cancer patient goes thru. What chronic pain does, and what pts mental health status is when dealing with these chronic health problems. God bless everyone that is going thru this. Let's all keep each other in our thoughts and prayers.

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 10:38 Permalink
Jay (not verified)

In reply to by marie bacon (not verified)

Do you have diabetic Neuropathy? I have it for 6 years and diabetes for 20+... I got denied my initial 2 application so now just requested a hearing and the lawyer said it will take almost 2 years...

Tue, 10/18/2016 - 23:50 Permalink

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

Hi Jay,
it's true, the SSA does take a good while, the average time for an ALJ hearing is around 17 months.

Wed, 10/19/2016 - 10:01 Permalink
Lisa (not verified)

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

I have had uncontrolled bp for years I'm talking 210/115!!!!! I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy,also seronegative rheumatoid due to sarcoidosis (autoimmune disease). I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis and stage 3 colon cancer in 1998. It has been down hill for me ever since. My rheumatologist said I have a high count of inflammation in my blood. My feet and hands swal up. An MRI showed I had a small vessel ischemia and infracted (stroke). I applied for SSID got denied twice, now it's going before a judge. It could take up to 12-18 months. What can I do but wait.

Sun, 10/30/2016 - 16:19 Permalink

In reply to by Lisa (not verified)

Hi Lisa,
If you're waiting for an ALJ hearing, I'd highly recommend speaking with a disability advocate or attorney about your claim. He or she can argue your case in front of the judge, and will go a long way in making sure your claim is approved.

Mon, 10/31/2016 - 17:04 Permalink

In reply to by jean (not verified)

Hi Jean,
You may want to contact the office in your state that handles social services, they may be able to help you temporarily with rent and and other necesities.

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 11:49 Permalink
April (not verified)

In reply to by Bryan

DHS dont help. Ive got 2 kids under 18. My husband does work thank god, but we struggle while waiting for my SSD claim. Been over 2years. Currently appealing to Appeals councel. DHS eays we don't qualify for any help....none. husband makes about 2 more than max income for food stamps, and about 100 more than SSI max we wait and hope we make it while my kids need to shoes.....

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 01:04 Permalink
Teresa L. (not verified)

In reply to by jean (not verified)

I'm so afraid of what's going to happen to myself and others like me that are having to wait 18-24 months for a hearing! That's how long my attorney told me it would take. I'm almost out of savings and I don't know what I'm going to do! I've just been through 2 major neck surgeries and also was diagnosed with bipolar depression and OCD. It's going to be nearly impossible for me to try to work in my condition because I can't sit or stand and longer than a couple of hours in any one stretch but it doesn't look like I'm going to have a choice so I'll have to at least try before I become homeless and my car gets repossessed! Then I'm afraid if I do some type of work from home (maybe then I could lay down every couple of hours to relieve the pressure off of my cervical spine to relieve the pain) it will cause my claim to be denied when I finally do get a hearing! I'd like to know what others in the

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 19:26 Permalink
Wendy (not verified)

In reply to by Teresa L. (not verified)

I'm in the same old dental hygienist! Been in the dental field and worked full time all my life since I was 16. 36 years! My spine and health are shot. Denied twice now waiting 1 year for my hearing March 2018. I have an attorney...

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 19:58 Permalink
Brian garrison (not verified)

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

I have diabetes heart disease chronic a fib microvalve regurgitation been waiting for over two years to find out whether I qualify for disability can't work getting ulcers in my feet so I have no income and no insurance dr. has quit prescribed me medication because I can't pay him don't know what to do

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 21:48 Permalink

In reply to by Brian garrison (not verified)

Hi Brian,
I would HIGHLY recommend filling out our contact form on the left-hand side of the page--this will get you in touch with a disability advocate or attorney in your area who can help you get the application started.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 12:19 Permalink
Dre spriggs (not verified)

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

You right two years is just about right I have counsel Nora staum in Florida and I live in DC I was denied in June 2014 in Florida and she said my doctor's did a great job on forms she appealed it in November of 2014 and I'm just getting my appeal date nov17 2017 I try to work but my health stops me and I'm always let go so I'm praying hard for my approval I filed in 2012 and am just about homeless now used all my family and friends out to they don't want to be bothered with me because of my begging I have children and I fought a war desert Storm for this country which left me with PTSD and other mental issues if I stand too long my leg cramos or if I sit more then five minute also I suffer from gout in my hands and feet that sprout at any moments which leaves me unable to walk and in intense pain period I pray for our and me...

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 15:48 Permalink

In reply to by Deborah Kretschmer (not verified)

Hi Deborah,
Thank you for sharing! It's true, reaching out to the religious communities in your area may prove helpful.

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 15:07 Permalink

In reply to by Missyfresh (not verified)


It's tough to say. However, it is a complex process and the government receives a lot of applications regarding Social Security benefits.


Mon, 03/13/2017 - 16:23 Permalink
Tracy (not verified)

In reply to by Missyfresh (not verified)

There's an automatic 5mos hold for anyone who applies for SSD or SSI its standard I believe its an attempt to weed out those who dont really need it cuz they figure those ppl will give up n return to work but it makes me angry that there really is ppl who fake stuff to get free money yet those of us who are seriously unable to work who have been working their whole life putting into SS more than federal taxes mind u, why would we give up our jobs where we were making 3xs (at least) more than we will get monthly from SS it creates no benefit to us to do that!

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 16:48 Permalink
Noami (not verified)

In reply to by marie bacon (not verified)

Hello Marie about how long did it take for you to go through the appeal process? Did you obtain a lawyer like I did? Did you file for a Dire Need Request. I have no family within my area moved to NY because of my grandfather and now he’s no longer here, I don’t have any monies to pay for anything & I think I need to go against my doctors wishes and get a part-time just to make ends meet I’ve been fighting for a year & a month now. Please give me your advice I have an 8 year old who depends on my and I’m really close to losing it.

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 04:38 Permalink
Dan Harford (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

Going through a disability claim myself. its tuff getting by money wise. Im using the web site for answers. im in pennsyvania. so laws are different. use the dept of social services. Be strong.

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 12:39 Permalink
Joyce Billings (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

I, too, have been without an income since 2013. I have gone through my life savings and cashed in my retirement. I have been told that I MIGHT get a court date in December. My house is going into foreclosure. I always played by the rules. I worked in the medical field. I don't understand. I don't know where to turn for help.

Sun, 09/04/2016 - 19:24 Permalink
Jerry (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

I was approved fast do to c.o.p.d and severe back problems and can not work full-time either. Now a month ago I found out have lung cancer and they cut me off told me 4 months out of year I make over 1000.00 that's to much. Nothing like making someone feel like crap after 20 years working. Also. Thanks S.S.D. Good luck

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 15:45 Permalink
Curtis johnson (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

Hey dude im in same dam citution cant work anymore .got 4 serios illiness plus blown out knees i also have applied for ssi age of 55 lost my job at walmart 6 and half years .me to cant get help got six brothers all got money 2 are rich dude they dont come by visit mustless call..acctually tried sucide didnt happen anyway ur not by ur self friend .by tha i got a facebook curtis drop a line we talk u want...

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 17:31 Permalink
Jason D. (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

I have a best friend who has helped me for the 37 months it took to get a hearing. Had a very favorable hearing per my attorney. I have waited 14 weeks and still notveven a letter from SS. I owe my friend over 30k. The only reason she helped me this long is i MADE IT A POINT to take her to my hearing so she could get the attorney's opinion on whether he thinks the case will be approved. He gave a thumbs up and this put her mind at ease. Waiting 13 weeks for a decision is nerve wracking for both of us. She is out of $ in her 401k and can no longer loan Livingwith her is out of the question. I am moving out of my rental next weekend. I have researched living on the street. Not safe or healthy especially here in Phoenix and its summer time! I always wondered how a person could possibly end up on the street. Now I know. I am physically disabled and have diabetes so i HAVE to eat regular meals. What the hell do i do?? The backpay and monthly checks arent helping me right now! Even if i was able to work it would disqualify me from getting benefits. This system is an absolute disgrace! Me...a street person and its 110 degrees every day. I am becoming despondent and very depressed. The attorney doesnt get a penny till i am approved. They have no answers. What am i supposed to do? going to stay within walking distance to the local ER as i am sure i will need help within 2 weeks. I never dreamed in a million years i would be in this situation. !!!

Sat, 07/29/2017 - 04:49 Permalink
Glenda W. (not verified)

In reply to by Jason D. (not verified)

Jason D, I am going through the exact situation. I too took my best friend (whom I now owe over $30,000) to my hearing that took place May 2017. I was also given a thumbs up by the judge at my hearing. The judge turned the paperwork over to the decision writer in late May and it has been in the decision writing department ever since. It is absolutely ridiculous that it takes longer for the decision to be written up than it was for the judge to make the decision. It has gotten to a point where my best friend can no longer pull any more money from anywhere. My friends and family aren't able to contribute anything because they are all having hardship situations and they work full-time jobs. I am also about to become homeless if I can't pay rent by tomorrow and there is no one else that I can live with. My mom is living in a retirement community, my brother has his girlfriend and a thousand kids in their household. They don't have the room and the situation is not beneficial to my medical conditions. I call the hearing office twice a week, every week for a status update and I'm told that they are extremely backed up with no resources to process claims in a timely manner. So in the meantime, I'm about to be living out of my car (if it doesn't get repossessed), which is also not a good option since I suffer with PTSD, Panic/Anxiety disorder, Depressive disorder, OCD, agaraphobia, neuropathy, back/spinal injuries and I don't hear well. Every time I contact my attorneys, they keep saying there is nothing they can do. But when I get my back pay it will be well worth it. Well, back pay is great, but I need help NOW! By the time back pay comes I will have lost everything. I really wish that every person in charge of processing disability claims (judges, clerks, etc.), could spend one week in our shoes. Then maybe they will get the lead out and see how important it is for those of us who are disabled to get the resources that we are entitled to immediately! I am 52 and I have consistently worked 35 years, I have even served our country 10 out of those 35 years. Yet, when I am in need, I'm treated like a second class citizen. It's just sad...

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 15:36 Permalink

In reply to by Glenda W. (not verified)

Hi Glenda,

I am so sorry to hear that. You may be able to get expedited payments if approved. Hang in there because things can get better. I am wishing you nothing but the best.

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 08:59 Permalink
Kristin (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

I am so sorry for what you're you going thru. It sounds like this should be coming to a resolved end, soon. Mine took 4 months (which is almost unheard of). I was fortunate enough to have a helpful family. The main light at the end of the tunnel is that your 1st check will be retroactive to the date you 1st applied. If it takes 10months total, you 1st check will be for the entire 10months. So you WILL get a good lump sum at 1st. If you have papers showing the approval, etc., it may help with getting loans (personal or otherwise) because you have credible proof that money IS coming. I dont know if youve talked to your bank (or Co. that holds your mortgage note), but you might try a sit down conversation with them (if you haven't already). Sorry if I'm telling you things you've already done. Tell them your ongoing issues, that you're not trying to hide, you want to be able to pay, etc. This can also be done with utilities, etc. There IS help, it's a matter of finding what resources are available in your area/state. The point of having a sit down meeting (vs. a phone call) is that they have to look you in the eyes, seeing you as a person, not "a caller" or a number. They usually have programs available for situations like this (imagine if everyone who lost a paycheck-to-paycheck job became unable to pay their mortgage). The bank would rather keep you in your house rather than take a losd at foreclosure (my dad was a banker 30+yrs). They may be able to grant a forebearance. The worst communication is no communication, as I know you've already discovered. Being at home, living in fear, is not good for your disability. You may have to fill out lots of paperwork & jump thru red tape & first hoops. But at least you'll have a sense of moving forward & being able to take some control in this unpleasant situation. If none of thus helps, there are always the disability attorneys (as distasteful as that sounds). They wouldnt charge you anything until you get that 1st check (they'd get a % of it). Since you've already done most the work yourself, is appeal for a smaller % than they usually charge. I hope & pray that you find the help & answers you're looking for. I will be praying for you & everything you're going thru.

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 14:39 Permalink
Harold Winchester sr (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

Wow I'm in the same boat as you Arlene so don't feel bad I've lost everything I had unbelievable house car now furniture couldn't afford to pay storage any longer been applying sense 2013 and I was getting my checks unfortunately I got incarcerated an Lost my benefits I don't no what to do but continue to try and wait sorry for your problems too.

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 19:29 Permalink
Jeana Willis (not verified)

In reply to by Arlene Emery (not verified)

I've been wating for 2 years in a half I owe my family members all my money when I get it I got hit by a car Sept 20015 30 percent in both hands I have f ibromiliga back pain knee pain can't set very long or stand very just had surgery on my foot I agree with what that guy said I have lawyer how would they like it no money for almost 3 years it's a crock

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 00:28 Permalink

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