As I've indicated in previous posts, there are two different Social Security disability programs: Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is available for people who have performed enough work in recent years to qualify under Social Security's "quarters" system. Benefits for SSDI are generally higher, and there are no resource requirements. SSI, on the other hand, is available to any American citizen (and, in a few situations, non-citizens) who:
Are "disabled" under Social Security's (very) complex definition
Meet the income and resource requirements of the program, and
Apply for the program
Benefits for SSI are only available from the date of the application. You cannot go back in time to secure benefits before the application in most situations.
The income requirements for SSI are fairly stringent. If you are earning any substantial amount from work (more than $1000, it is unlikely that you can qualify. As such, the SSI program will usually only be available to people who are earning no wages or whose wages are extremely low.
The resource requirements for SSI are also very strict. Individuals can have no more than $2,000 in available resources, and couples must have no more than $3,000 in available resources. However, some assets are not counted as resources for SSI purposes. They include a home, one vehicle (if it is used for work or to secure medical treatment), household goods and personal effects, and a few other things that are less common for someone with low resources to own.
As of the year 2000, if you qualify, you can receive up to $783 as an individual or $1175 as a couple.
If you think you may qualify for the SSI program, it is important to speak with an attorney or someone at the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. As mentioned above, you cannot start receiving benefits until your application is on file, so the sooner you file, the better.