Key Points COVID-19 Long-Haulers Need to Know About Applying for Social Security

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As many of 10% of people who get COVID-19 could have long-haul symptoms, according to National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD. Long-haul COVID-19, or “long COVID” is defined by the World Health Organization as anyone who recovered from the virus but still experiences some symptoms.

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Common symptoms of long COVID-19 include shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction, and fatigue, Dr. Janet Diaz said in a video on the WHO website.

For many people, these symptoms leave them unable to work full-time in the job they held before diagnosis. Some can’t hold a job at all due to debilitating fatigue. Those without long-term disability insurance, and even those who have a policy, can file for Social Security disability benefits if the condition persists longer than 12 months.

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However, the application process can be long and complicated. Getting started early can help you receive the money you need to survive without employment for the long-term, T.J. Geist, principal advocate at Allsup, told CNBC. He also said that it can take three to five months to get a decision on the initial application, and four to six months for the appeal process if the first application is denied. It can take 12 months to get a hearing if the application has to be reviewed by a judge, Geist told CNBC.

More than 1% of applicants had to file bankruptcy while waiting for an appeal, while 1.2% died before receiving the final decision, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

Even though SSD is designed for long-term illnesses lasting longer than 12 months, it doesn’t mean you have to wait 12 months to apply. If you can’t work, you should file as soon as possible, since the process can take so long.

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In addition to filing early, applicants should understand the rules and follow these best practices to increase their odds of acceptance.

You Must Have a History of FICA Tax Payments

FICA taxes, or Federal Insurance Contributions Act, are typically deducted from paychecks of W-2 workers in the U.S. These taxes help fund social security insurance, including old-age, survivors and social security disability insurance, as well as Medicare, according to the IRS website.

If you work as an independent contractor who receives 1099 forms or if you own a business, you’re responsible for paying your own FICA taxes based on your income.

If you have not paid into social security via FICA taxes for at least 10 years, you’re not eligible to collect social security disability insurance. However, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as long as you hold assets totaling less than $2,000 per individual or $3,000 per married couple.

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You Must Be Unable to Engage in “Substantial Gainful Activity”

To qualify for social security disability benefits, your income must be less than $1,310 per month in 2021, according to the Social Security Administration website. That is the income level that indicates you are unable to engage in “Substantial Gainful Activity,” or SGA, according to the SSA website.

Geist told CNBC that he recommends long-haulers applying for social security disability benefits not to collect unemployment benefits. Applying for unemployment implies you are willing and also able to work, which can be seen as contradictory to being disabled and unable to engage in SGA.

Document Your Symptoms

The key to receiving social security disability benefits is showing that you are unable to work for more than 12 months. Since it hasn’t been a full year since many long-COVID sufferers started showing symptoms, the process may take a while.

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Also, unlike certain illnesses like cancer, which can be diagnosed through tests, long-COVID has a range of symptoms and no definitive test to identify it. The courts evaluating your application will want to see symptoms persist over time in order to grant you benefits. Document every symptom with your doctor, including duration, intensity and treatments.

So much is still unknown about COVID-19 or persistent symptoms that last after recovery. But if it doesn’t look like you’re getting better — and it is affecting your finances and making it impossible to earn a living — SSD may provide some financial relief.

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