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Widows, widowers have new standard

A new rule applies the same standard of disability to disabled widows and widowers that already applies to people who receive disability benefits based on their own work under Social Security. As of Jan. 1, 1991, disabled widows and widowers between ages 50 and 60 can qualify for benefits on their deceased spouse's work if their earnings are less than the substantial earnings level established by regulation _ currently, $500 a month. In addition, vocational factors such as age, education and work experience will be considered in evaluating applicants' ability to work.

Under previous law, disability for widows and widowers was evaluated solely in terms of medical findings. The effect of such factors as age, education and experience on the person's ability to work were not considered.

Under certain circumstances, widows or widowers already receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits will be deemed disabled under the new standard for Social Security disabled widows' or widowers' benefits. The months they were receiving SSI will count toward the five-month wait required for Social Security benefits. The months of disability under SSI also may count toward the 24-month wait required for Medicare. If applicants have not been disabled long enough to receive Medicare, in most states their Medicaid coverage may continue until they can qualify for Medicare.

The change was included in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, enacted in November.

To make an appointment to apply for disabled widows' or widowers' benefits, call (800) 234-5772.

Gary D. York is a field representative of the Social Security Administration. You may write to him at P.O. Box 4898, Clearwater 34618. If you live in Hernando County, ask the telephone operator to dial toll free WX-0291.