Skip Navigation
Expert Brief

VRM | Disability Benefits

Published: May 12, 2009

Like the low-income individuals covered by the public assistance lists described above, people with disabilities are less likely to be included on driver’s license lists. As such, lists of disability benefit recipients are necessary to ensure that all Americans are registered under a system of automatic voter registration. The following state and federal lists cover recipients of disability benefits. Most of these lists contain the information necessary for voter registration and are maintained in electronic databases with sharing capability.

Supplemental Security Income | Disability Insurance | Medicaid | Medicare | Workers’ Compensation | Paratransit | Libraries for the Blind and Physically Disabled

A.      Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federally administered program that provides permanent income for older, blind, and disabled people. The Social Security Administration collects all data elements essential to voter registration, and records SSI recipients’ citizenship information in the “alien indicator code” of its database.[86]As of 2008, individuals could qualify for SSI only if they made less than $657 in unearned income or $1359 in earned income per month.[87] As of March 2009, 7.6 million people received state and/or federal SSI benefits, 85 percent of whom are voting-age adults.[88]

The Social Security Administration administers the application process and disbursement of funds for SSI, although most states also offer supplementary payments that the state administers either on its own or in conjunction with the Social Security Administration.[89]  In states that administer their own supplementary support, the state department of human services is typically responsible, although county authorities also administer the program in some states.[90] While everyone must apply for SSI benefits through federal Social Security Administration field offices, individuals applying for supplementary support in states that self-administer the program must apply separately through the agency that administers supplementary payments.[91]

Even in states that do not self-administer their own supplementary SSI payments, state agencies are involved in program implementation through “Disability Determination Services” (DDS), state agencies charged with following up on applications for SSI benefits to verify a beneficiary’s eligibility. When the Social Security Administration accepts an application for SSI benefits, it puts all of the applicant’s information into a computerized system called the Disability Determination File, to which state DDS agencies have some limited access.[92]

B.      Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)  is a federal disability benefit that differs from SSI in that recipients must have worked and paid social security taxes for a certain period of time, usually 40 quarters, 20 of which must have occurred within the past 10 years.[93] In some cases, the spouses and children of SSDI beneficiaries qualify for benefits as well. Like Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance is administered through the Social Security Administration, with assistance from state Disability Determination Services agencies.[94] The application for SSDI benefits includes information about date of birth, Social Security number, and citizenship status.

The qualifying standards for SSDI are essentially the same as those for SSI with the exception of the work requirement described above. In 2007, about 8.1 million people received SSDI benefits, 80 percent of whom were voting-age adults.[95]

C.      Medicaid

In the 18 years between 1984 and 2002,[96] SSI recipients’ participation in Medicaid fluctuated between 96 and 100 percent.[97] Given that Medicaid information is already in a format that would easily facilitate the transfer of beneficiary data to the state election authority, it may be unnecessary to transfer SSI beneficiary information separately.

D.      Medicare

Medicare is a government-run health insurance program available to people over the age of 65, people under 65 with certain disabilities, and people with kidney failure requiring dialysis. Unlike Medicaid, the federal government administers Medicare. States have no role in collecting patient information or disbursing benefits. The Social Security Administration administers the Medicare database, known as the MDB file.[98] The MDB file contains information on beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses.

As of 2003, Medicare had about 41.8 million beneficiaries, 85.6 percent of whom were over the age of 65.[99] The remaining 14.4 percent were disabled individuals of indeterminate age.[100]  The overlap between Medicare and Medicaid recipients is relatively small; only 17.8 percent of Medicare recipients also receive Medicaid.[101] In addition to serving as a valuable source of information on disabled individuals, Medicare is likely the best source of information on potential voters over the age of 65.

E.       Workers’ Compensation

State agencies oversee each worker’s compensation program, with the exception of special programs for dock workers and coal miners that are administered by federal agencies.[102] While states vary in the structure of their worker’s compensation programs, any individual who suffers a work-related injury is entitled to compensation paid by the employer, and dependents of individuals killed in a work-related accident receive similar compensation for a limited time.[103] While state worker’s compensation forms vary, most or all seem to collect social security numbers and dates of birth.[104] Most or all worker’s compensation applications for assistance do not ask for citizenship information.[105]

The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that over 1.15 million people suffered injuries that led to time away from work and 5,488 people died in workplace accidents in 2007. All of these individuals (or, in the case of death, their dependents) are likely captured on state worker’s compensation databases.

F.       Paratransit

Paratransit is a government-funded transportation service that allows disabled individuals who cannot easily drive or use public transportation to travel by chauffeured vehicle. Because they often work, Paratransit users are less likely than other disabled individuals to receive benefits like SSI or SSDI that are predicated on a lack of gainful employment.

G.      Libraries for the Blind and Physically Disabled

The federal government administers a national network of libraries for the blind and physically disabled that send Braille and audio materials to eligible individuals.[106] The mailing list for this system or for libraries within this system may be another source of disabled individuals who do not appear on other program lists.

[86] See 71 Fed. Reg. 39216 (Jul. 12, 2006).

[87] Green Book, supra note 35, at 3–5.

[88] See SSI Monthly Statistics, March 2009,–03/table02.html (last visited Apr. 27, 2009).

[89] See Social Security Administration, State Assistance Programs for SSI Recipients  (Dec. 2008) [hereinafter State SSI Programs].

[90] Id.

[91] Id.

[92] See Disability Benefits, (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).

[93] How Much Work Do You Need? Disability Planner, (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).

[94] SSDI Decision,–52.html, (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).

[95] Social Security Administration, Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program 17 (Aug. 2008).

[96] The federal government last compiled information on multiple program participation in 2002.

[97] See Green Book, supra note 35, at 15–4.

[98] See 75 Fed. Reg. 42159 (Jul. 25, 2006).

[99] Medpac, Medicare Beneficiary Demographics 23 (Jun. 2006).

[100] Id. at 19.

[101] Green Book, supra note 35, at 15–3.

[102] Id. at 15–142–15–146.

[103] Id. at 15–137–15–138.

[104] Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission, MWCC Form B-18 (revised 7–96),; West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs, Workers’ Compensation Division, Application for Dependents’ Benefits (WC-402, rev. 2/03),; Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, First Report of an Injury, Occupational Disease or Death (FROI), (last visited June 24, 2009).

[105] Indiana Workers’ Compensation Board, Ombudsman Division, Request for Assistance (State Form 45442) (R2 / 5/06),

[106] See generally Home Page of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).