Social Security disability benefits programs like the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs provide a vital lifeline for people who are unable to work due to illness or injury.
The Compassionate Allowances Program (CAL) expedites SSDI and SSI benefits decisions for applicants with the most severe qualifying disabilities.
How long does it take to get approved? It can be days instead of months. See if your disability is on the CAL conditions list and how to apply.
Living with a disability is hard. It’s even harder when long-term illness or injury affects your ability to work and pay your bills.
Ms. B, 63, knows this first-hand. After losing her part-time job due to COVID-19 downsizing, she became desperate for financial assistance. Although she lives with a visual disability, Ms. B was unaware that she might be eligible for benefits. Suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed, this Tennessee resident simply didn’t know how she would eat, cover her rent, pay for her prescription medicines, or manage her other basic living costs.
“I was unable to make logical decisions about [my finances],” she explained at the time.
Fortunately, with help from an outreach specialist at Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee, an NCOA Benefits Enrollment Center, Ms. B successfully applied and qualified for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Together with other benefits programs, this income has dramatically changed Ms. B’s financial situation.
“Social Security disability programs provide a crucial lifeline for people like Ms. B,” said Darren Hotton, NCOA’s Associate Director of Community Health and Benefits. “But the approval process takes time. And that can create an income gap that’s tough to bridge—especially for people whose conditions are so severe that even temporary employment is out of the question.”
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), it typically can take between five and six months to make a disability benefits decision.1 But that doesn’t account for the time applicants spend gathering necessary documentation, completing the paperwork, and following up. All of these factors can add up to even longer waiting periods for people anxious for financial assistance.
That’s where the Social Security Compassionate Allowances (CAL) Program comes in.
“Think of it as a fast-track to disability benefits,” Hotton explained. “Because that’s exactly what it is.”
The SSA created the Compassionate Allowances Program in 2008 in order to quickly identify and approve benefits for people with the most severe qualifying disabilities.2 Since that time, nearly 900,000 older adults, veterans, kids, and others have successfully had their claims processed under CAL’s expedited process.3
Could you or an older adult you know be eligible for CAL? Get answers to the most common questions about the initiative and how it works here.
What is the Social Security Compassionate Allowances (CAL) Program?
If you apply for one or both of these programs—and have a disease or medical condition that appears on the official list of compassionate allowances—the Social Security Administration’s system automatically flags your application for priority approval.4
There’s no doubt, this can make a meaningful difference to your budget … and your peace of mind,” Hotton said.
What are the benefits of the Social Security Compassionate Allowances Program?
Fast-track approval aside, CAL does not offer any benefits above what SSDI and SSI already provide.
“That’s because CAL is a process that works alongside these existing disability programs,” explained Hotton. “It’s not a separate initiative with additional payouts.”
Speaking of those payouts: the average SSDI benefit payment as of October 2023 is $1,352.32.6 And 2023’s maximum monthly SSI payment is $914 for one person, or $1,371 for a couple.7
Am I eligible for the Social Security Compassionate Allowances Program?
The SSA uses the same rules to determine your benefits eligibility under the CAL program as it does for both SSDI and SSI.8
- Results in the inability to do any substantial gainful activity; and
- Can be expected to result in death; or
- Has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months
If and when you satisfy these requirements, compassionate allowances may then apply. The SSA maintains an approved list of these allowances, updated regularly with input from medical professionals, population health experts, and the general public. Currently, there are 278 diseases and medical conditions on the CAL list.3 These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Certain cancers
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Certain rare diseases
- Pineoblastoma and other children’s illnesses
How do I apply for the Social Security Compassionate Allowances Program?
There is no separate process to apply and qualify for CAL benefits. When you submit your SSDI or SSI application (or both), be sure to specifically state that your condition appears on the Compassionate Allowances Conditions list.
To apply for SSDI or SSI, you may visit your local Social Security office; complete an online application; or call the SSA directly for assistance at (800) 772-1213, Monday-Friday between 7 a.m and 7 p.m. Eastern. (TTY: 800-325-0778).
How long does it take to get approved for the Social Security Compassionate Allowances Program?
As with any SSA benefits application, CAL approval rates can vary.
The agency does not promise a specific turnaround time under the program. However, it does identify the initiative as one of its greatest successes. In some cases, CAL can lead to a benefits determination within days instead of months.5
What if I am denied for the Social Security Compassionate Allowances Program? What are my rights?
If you think the SSA made an error, you may appeal the decision.
Keep in mind that you must request an appeal within 60 days of your benefits determination, or you may lose your right to do so.
If you wish to appeal, you must do so in writing. You can submit your appeal online; download and print a form to complete and mail in; or request a form by calling the SSA at (800) 772-1213, Monday-Friday between 7 a.m and 7 p.m. Eastern. (TTY: 800-325-0778).
The bottom line
The Social Security Compassionate Allowances Program (CAL) is a process by which the agency automatically fast-tracks disability benefits decisions for people with specific medical conditions or illnesses—including veterans, older adults, younger adults, and children. According to the SSA, CAL can cut down on the time it takes to approve an SSDI or SSI application from months to just a few days.
For more information on CAL, visit the SSA’s resource page on the topic.
1. Social Security Administration. What You Should Know Before Applying for Social Security Benefits. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/disability/Documents/Factsheet-AD.pdf
2. United States Government Accountability Office. Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security, Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives. SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Initiative. August 2017. Found on the internet at https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687347.pdf
3. Social Security Administration’s Social Security Matters. Social Security Administration Expedites Decisions for People with Severe Disabilities. August 16, 2023. Found on the internet at https://blog.ssa.gov/social-security-administration-expedites-decisions-for-people-with-severe-disabilities/
4. Social Security Administration. Compassionate Allowances. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/#:~:text=The%20CAL%20initiative%20helps%20us,Security's%20statutory%20standard%20for%20disability
5. Social Security Administration. Fast Track Processes Public Use Files. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/publicusefiles.html
6. Social Security Administration. Monthly Statistical Snapshot. October 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/stat_snapshot/2023-10.pdf
7. Social Security Administration. You May Be Able to Get Supplemental Security Income. January 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-11069.pdf
8. Social Security Administration. Compassionate Allowances. Found on the internet at https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/#:~:text=The%20CAL%20initiative%20helps%20us,Security's%20statutory%20standard%20for%20disability