Survival Income Assistance While Waiting for Disability

How do you survive while waiting for Social Security disability approval?

Applicants face a minimum five-month waiting period. Plus, the application, review, and appeal process can take longer.

With many people living check-to-check before suffering a severe injury or illness, finding a life raft is the only way to stay afloat.

Fortunately, you have many places to turn to for help.

Several government programs might help replace lost income, giving you the money needed to pay everyday bills such as rent, food, transportation, etc.

Other initiatives offer financial assistance that lowers energy, housing, loan installment, medical care expenses, etc.

What To Do For Income

What can you do about replacing lost income while waiting for a Social Security Disability approval? We all need money coming in to support ourselves. Savings, if any, rapidly deplete when earnings are zero.

Fortunately, some options do exist to help you survive.


Applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is great for income while waiting for disability checks. TANF provides emergency cash and other services to low-income households to cover essential bills: food, clothing, and shelter.

File for TANF welfare benefits through your local agency. Each state determines eligibility differently, but all consider your projected income. Your future earnings are negligible while you are not working or yet to receive Social Security disability benefits.

Short-Term Disability

Filing for short-term disability benefits is the best thing to do for income while waiting for Social Security to approve your application – if you suffered a non-occupational (off-the-job) accident or illness that prevents you from working.

Workers’ Compensation

Filing for Workers’ Compensation benefits is ideal for income while waiting for a disability determination – if you suffer an occupational (on-the-job) injury or sickness that prevents you from working.

Apply for Workers’ Compensation through the private insurance company chosen by your employer. Your state requires most businesses, non-profits, and government agencies to carry this coverage, offering critical benefits.

  • Wage replacement
  • Medical treatment
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Other assistance

Cash Assistance

Filing for Interim Public Assistance is a good thing to do for income for people waiting for a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) decision. SSI helps aged, blind, and disabled individuals with little or no previous income.

Apply for cash assistance at your state social services agency. The interim money can help you stay afloat while Social Security reviews your case and might become a grant.

  • SSI denials: the agency cannot recover the advanced money
  • SSI approvals: repay the cash advance from future benefit checks

Collecting Unemployment

Filing an unemployment claim is a tricky thing to do for income while waiting for disability approval. You do not want to jeopardize benefits that could last decades for payments that end after only six months.

The criteria for the two programs are mutually exclusive, with a tiny gray area.

  1. Unemployment: physically able to work
  2. SSDI & SSD: unable to engage in substantial gainful activity

Collecting unemployment for medical reasons is not feasible while you are disabled because you cannot work because of an injury or illness. By receiving these benefits, you send mixed signals to the Social Security determinations office or administrative law judge deciding your case.

Therefore, proceed with caution and seek the advice of legal counsel.

Make Money

Working part-time is viable for income while waiting for a disability decision, provided you do not make too much money. You do not want to jeopardize benefits that could last decades by exceeding monthly earning limits.

 Social Security Substantial Gainful Activity Amounts

  • Statutorily blind individuals: $2,260
  • Non-blind individuals: $1,350

The best way to make money while a decision is pending is to find a job that pays cash, which many employers cannot report accurately (wink, wink) to the IRS. For instance, many food servers receive cash tips that go under-reported.

Assistance With Bills

The adage, “a penny saved is a penny earned,” describes how financial assistance addresses the question of what to do for income while waiting for Social Security disability approval. It helps you survive by cutting expenses.

Monetary Assistance

Grants from the federal government offer financial assistance to people waiting for a disability decision, even though the funding does not flow directly to individuals.

Free money from the government goes to non-profits, universities, and state agencies to foster public service or stimulate the economy. However, you might meet the low-income criteria for numerous programs now that you cannot work.

You can save enormous money by tapping into the resources provided at each endpoint to lower household bills.

  • Home repair
  • Replacement HVAC equipment
  • Groceries
  • Phone service

Energy Assistance

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) offers financial help to individuals waiting for a disability decision. LIHEAP lowers the cost of cooling your apartment in the summer, heating it in the winter, and running appliances such as a refrigerator or washer and dryer.

You will likely meet the low-income LIHEAP criteria because you are no longer working and have yet to receive disability checks.

Find a local LIHEAP provider by starting at this government webpage.

Housing Assistance

The Section 8 Housing Voucher and related programs provide financial assistance with the most significant bill people waiting for disability face: their monthly rent.

You will likely meet the low-income Section 8 qualifications when you cannot work and have not received money from Social Security disability.

Find a local public housing agency on this government webpage.

Medical Assistance

Medicaid provides financial assistance to people waiting for disability approval by paying their doctor and hospital bills – and sometimes their dental expenses. You need care from a licensed physician when you cannot work because of an illness or injury, so this section is crucial.

You will likely meet the low-income Medicaid eligibility criteria when you cannot work and do not have money from Social Security yet. The program asks for your expected annual income, not what you previously earned.

Apply for Medicaid by starting at this government website.

Loans While Waiting

Loan deferment and forbearance is a more viable strategy for people waiting for Social Security disability approval than attempting to borrow money from a lender. Few bankers will approve applicants with no apparent means of support.

However, several institutions will allow you to temporarily suspend loan repayment, helping you survive by postponing significant ongoing expenses.

Student Loans

People should consider temporarily holding their federal student loan payments while waiting for a disability decision. The Department of Education offers two options to lower your monthly expenses dramatically.

  1. Deferment: temporary postponement of payment that is allowed under certain conditions and during which interest generally does not accrue on specific loans
  2. Forbearance:  A period during which your monthly loan payments are temporarily suspended or reduced, but interest continues to accrue

Apply for student loan deferment or forbearance through your contract servicer, a private company hired by the Department of Education to manage the process. These options provide relief while the Social Security decision is still pending.

Apply for student loan discharge (forgive the entire balance) after Social Security approves the disability benefit. Submit documentation from the SSA to validate your case.

Mortgage Loans

Homeowners should consider mortgage loan forbearance while waiting for a disability determination. This program allows you to suspend or reduce mortgage payments during financial hardship.

Apply for home loan forbearance through the private company processing your mortgage payments. However, interest will continue to accrue, making the monthly payment higher in the future. At some point, you may want to consider selling your home to tap into any equity.