Survival Assistance While Waiting for Disability Approval

How do you survive while waiting for a disability approval letter from Social Security? The application and review process can drag on for months or years.

Potential recipients have three places to turn for financial assistance.

Finding help paying bills is most realistic because welfare programs target low-income households – where you might fall while unable to work. 

Replacing income through other government benefits is hit or miss because many people do not have short-term coverage – although a minority do.

Taking out a loan is rarely a good idea because denials and delays are more common than approvals – although payment deferrals might work better.

How to Pay Your Bills While Waiting

How do you pay your bills while waiting for a Social Security disability approval letter? Fortunately, you might qualify for various financial assistance programs that target low-income families now that you cannot work for a living.


Applicants often qualify for welfare while waiting for a disability decision. Many government programs fall under the welfare umbrella, which provides help paying bills to low-income households.

Temporary Assistance

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families provides emergency cash and other services to low-income households to cover essential bills: food, clothing, and shelter. Each state administers this federally-funded welfare program and sometimes rebrands the name.

Begin with a local agency to find cash assistance.

NebraskaNevadaNew Hampshire
New JerseyNew MexicoNew York
North CarolinaNorth DakotaOhio
Rhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth Dakota
West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Grocery Bills

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as Food Stamps, can help you pay grocery bills. Individuals unable to work frequently meet the criteria.

  • $2,250 limit in countable resources
  • Gross monthly income under 130% of the poverty level
  • Net monthly income under 100% of the poverty level

Find a local SNAP agency by starting at this government webpage.

Housing Bills

The Section 8 Housing Voucher and related program provides direct financial assistance with the most significant bill most people face: their monthly rent. The federal government also funds this welfare initiative, and county-level agencies administer benefits.

Find a local public housing agency on this government webpage.

Utility Bills

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides help paying utility bills. This welfare initiative 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.

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

Medical Bills

Applicants waiting for a disability decision can find help paying for healthcare bills through two different programs. Access to doctors and hospitals is critical when you are unable to work due to a medical problem.

Apply for coverage through the site
 to see which of the three programs fit your profile. You might be able to enroll any time of year.


Medicaid pays for healthcare bills for low-income households. Each state determines the medical benefits to include and the eligibility rules expressed as a percentage of the federal poverty level.

Qualified applicants can enroll at any time during the year. Plus, Medicaid may cover medical expenses for three months retroactively.


Private health insurance helps pay medical bills for households that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, perhaps when a spouse continues to work. Premium subsidies could reduce the cost of obtaining the coverage.

You may be able to enroll anytime during the year if you experience a qualifying life event – such as loss of health insurance due to a disability.

Dental Bills

Individuals waiting for a disability determination will find it very difficult to find help paying for dental work charges. Oral care is a critical component of your overall health and is something you do not want to delay.

Financial assistance programs for dental treatments require detective work for patients without insurance. You might have to look under multiple rocks before finding a local resource.

  • Free clinics
  • Dental schools
  • Discount cards
  • Grant programs

What to Do About Income While Waiting

What can you do about replacing 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 during your financial hardship.

Cash Assistance

Interim Public Assistance is the ideal way to raise cash for applicants waiting for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) decision. Apply for this temporary income support at your state Department of Health and Human Services or Department of Social Services.

Interim assistance is the best way to raise cash because it could turn into a grant.

Short-Term Disability

Filing a claim for short-term disability is the ideal way to replace income while waiting for a Social Security decision – if the benefit is available to you.

  • State-based temporary disability replaces a portion of earnings (with a hard dollar cap) for a limited period. However, only a handful of states have a mandatory program: CA, HI, MA, NJ, NY, PR, RI, and WA.
  • Private short-term disability can also replace income – provided you purchased a policy before becoming sick or injured. This type of coverage is available across the country and often pays more than SSI or SSDI.

Workers Compensation

Workers Compensation is another excellent way to replace income while waiting for a disability decision if you suffered an occupational (on-the-job) accident or illness. File a claim immediately if you fit into this category.

SSDI will offset any Workers Compensation benefits once approved. However, do not concern yourself with this technicality because of the two monthly payments’ relative size.

  • Workers Compensation: Monthly maximum up to $4,000
  • SSDI: average monthly benefit of $1,050

Unemployment Benefits

Filing an unemployment claim is not a viable approach to replace your income while waiting for a disability decision. The eligibility criteria for the two programs are mutually exclusive.

  1. Collecting unemployment for medical reasons is impermissible while you remain disabled because you will fail three universal rules
    1. Physically able to work
    1. Available for employment
    1. Actively seeking a new job
  2. Receipt of unemployment benefits sends a signal to the administrative law judge that you a physically capable of working, which hurts your case

Working Part-Time

Working while waiting for a disability decision to generate income is a complicated question best addressed by a qualified attorney.

The Social Security eligibility rules are complex, and you do not want to put your benefits at risk or push out the onset date of your claim. Speak with your lawyer about these two work-related tests before taking a job for pay.

  1. Substantial Gainful Activity is work that brings in over a certain dollar amount per month
  2. 12-Month Duration Requirement links eligibility to the expected length of your condition

The earnings limit for SSDI applicants is $1,220 monthly ($2,040 for blind applicants). Plus, there are different rules for business owners whose earnings may fluctuate month-to-month.

Loans While Waiting for Disability

Loans are a sketchy strategy to stay afloat while waiting for a Social Security disability approval: denials and delays are the most common decision.  

Lenders require repayment, which is impossible to do while your application is pending, or after they deny your final appeal. 

Personal Loans

Applying for a personal loan while waiting for a Social Security disability decision is a poor choice because you are unlikely to qualify. Plus, you could make matters worse.

  • Most private lenders will decline applicants who are not earning an income and have no government benefit checks coming in yet
  • Borrowing money adds to your costs with origination fees and interest charges, making repayment extremely challenging
  • Any late payments could torpedo your credit score, making it impossible to borrow money once approved for SSDI or SSI

Loan Deferment

Deferment or forbearance of existing loans is the second viable strategy while waiting for a disability decision. Both alternatives allow you to temporarily suspend making payments or reduce each installment’s size if you are experiencing economic hardship.

The process works slightly differently for student loans versus mortgages.

Student Loans

Two programs can provide temporary repayment relief for federal student loans.

  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


Mortgage loan forbearance can also provide temporary relief. The mortgage company may agree to lower your monthly payments for a set period.

However, interest will continue to accrue, making the monthly payment higher once forbearance ends. At some point, you may want to consider selling your home to tap into any equity.


Social Security pre-settlement loans work like a cash advance using your projected back payment as collateral. Of course, the lender will need written assurance that the pending decision will be a quick approval rather than denial or delay due to appeals.

Given the statistics, pre-settlement loans are an unlikely source of money because so few people ultimately receive any back payments.

  • Initial Awards: 23%
  • Reconsideration Awards: 2%
  • Appeals Council Awards: 15%
  • Medical Denials: 25%
  • Technical Denials: 35%