Blindness or visual impairment gives rise to problems that affect every area of your life regardless of whether you were born that way, or whether you experienced vision impairment due to aging or injury.
Tragically, visual impairment can easily drain your finances. In addition to bearing the various medical costs that arise from vision loss, you may find yourself with a limited or even nonexistent ability to work.
Fortunately, however, benefits for legally blind individuals are available from the Social Security Administration as well as the Pennsylvania State Blind Pension Program.
Eligibility standards for blind disability benefits are strict and subject to discretion, however, and you could easily be denied benefits for the blind unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
Although Social Security is not the only source of benefits for legally blind individuals, it is the most important source of benefits for the blind.
There are two ways you can qualify for Social Security benefits for the blind:
- Qualify as legally blind; or
- Qualify for the SSA Medical-Vocational Allowance
Benefits for the Legally Blind: “Low Vision” vs. “Legally Blind”
Social Security’s legally blind standards are based on its impairment listings, and they impose a very specific definition of “legal blindness.”
There are three ways you can qualify:
- Visual acuity (clarity of vision): To qualify for blind disability benefits under this standard, your visual acuity after best correction must be no better than 20/200 in your better eye.
- Loss of visual efficiency (the ability to quickly track, converge, and focus quickly): To qualify for legally blind benefits under this standard, you must suffer either (i) a 20% or lower visual efficiency rating, or (ii) a 1.00 or greater visual impairment measurement in your better eye after best correction.
- Loss of peripheral vision (“peripheral field contraction”): To qualify under this standard, you must suffer from one of the following three deficiencies, in your better eye and after best correction: a visual field efficiency of no more than 20%; a maximum visual field diameter of no greater than 20 degrees from the fixation point; or a mean deviation of -22 or less.
Beware of the Qualifiers: “After Best Correction” and “In Your Better Eye”
You will want to understand the qualifiers “After Best Correction” and “In Your Better Eye.”
“After best correction” refers to your vision after everything has been done that can be done to improve it. Typically, this means wearing a pair of glasses. “In your better eye” means just what it sounds like; your better eye.
The implication is that to be eligible for benefits for legally blind individuals, both of your eyes must qualify as legally blind under at least one of the foregoing tests. One good eye can disqualify you.
Even if you do not qualify as legally blind, you will be considered “low vision” if your vision is impaired. If you have trouble reading or watching your television, you might qualify for benefits for the blind under the SSA Medical-Vocational Allowance (see below).
SSDI vs. SSI Qualifications and Benefits
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Qualifying for SSDI is based on the number of work credits accumulated by you, your spouse or your parents. Although these requirements are complicated, if you have worked at least ten years in your working lifetime, and five of these were during the last decade, you are likely to qualify for SSDI. Keep in mind, though, that your visual impairment must have lasted at least 12 months or be expected to persist at least that long.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Qualifying under SSI is based on financial need. Although the rules for determining financial need are complicated, if you and your spouse’s combined income exceeds $1,157 (as of 2019), you may have trouble qualifying for full benefits for the blind, and past a certain point, you will not qualify for benefits at all. SSI eligibility is also conditioned on very low asset limits. There is no “12-month” duration rule for SSI as there is for SSDI.
If you qualify for benefits for legally blind individuals under SSDI, you will be allowed to earn up to $2,040 per month in earned income (as of 2019) without disqualifying yourself for blind disability benefits.
This amount is about two-thirds higher than the maximum of $1,220 per month that applies to other SSDI recipients.
These limits increase almost every year to adjust for inflation. And remember, this limit applies to SSDI benefits only. The maximum income for SSI benefits for legally blind individuals is considerably lower (see above for information on SSI income limits).
Blind Disability Benefits for “Low Vision” Individuals: The Medical-Vocational Allowance
Many people who don’t qualify for legally blind disability benefits, as discussed above, still cannot work.
Even if Social Security finds you ineligible for legally blind benefits, it will still evaluate whether you suffer from functional occupational limitations due to “low vision” that could prevent you from working.
If Social Security reviews your medical condition and finds that (i) you cannot return to your previous position and (ii) you cannot perform any other suitable work in light of your age, experience, and education, you may remain eligible for benefits for the blind.
If you are facing this situation, retaining a disability benefits attorney with experience in obtaining benefits for legally blind individuals is critical because things can get complicated.
The Pennsylvania State Blind Pension Program
The Pennsylvania state government has established a State Blind Pension Program that provides blind disability benefits to eligible applicants.
These are the qualifications:
- Minimum age of 21;
- Pennsylvania residency;
- An annual net income of no more than $4,260;
- Combined asset value of no more than $7,500; and
- Your visual acuity in your better eye, after best correction, must not exceed 3/60 or 10/200.
Ultimately, your eligibility for legally blind disability benefits will be determined by the county assistance office.
Contact the Experienced Blind Disability Benefits Lawyers at Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo
At Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo, we work smart and fight hard for our clients.
If you live in Pennsylvania and you are seeking blind disability benefits, act now to set up a free consultation so that we can answer your questions and discuss your options.