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U.S. DISABILITY FAQ's FAQ's

Online:http://www.ssa.gov
Call 1-800-772-1213
(TTY 1-800-325-0778)

The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. While these two programs are different in many ways, both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either program.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured," meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
pays benefits based on financial need.

This page provides the answers to some of the more frequently asked questions about Social Security Disability. Click on the questions below to learn the answers.

If you have specific questions about the Appeals Process click HERE. Contact us if you have any questions.

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How Does The Social Security Administration (SSA) Decide If I'm Disabled

ANSWER: Disability under Social Security for an adult is based on your inability to work because of a medical condition. To be considered disabled:

  • You must be unable to do work you did before and the Social Security Administration decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of a medical condition.

  • Your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.

For adults, they use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled under Social Security. The process considers any current work activity you are doing, and your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work.

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Can I Apply For Social Security Benefits On The Internet

ANSWER: Yes. You can apply for Social Security Retirement benefits, Spouse's benefits or Disability benefits online. When your application is received in your local social security office, they will make sure they have all the information they need to make a decision on your claim.

You will find helpful links to all the online forms you need to apply for disability benefits. Reviewing and collecting the information shown in the Disability Starter Kit will help prepare you for your disability interview or help you to complete your online Disability Report. The Disability Report Form asks for information about your conditions or impairmentsthat prevent you from working.

At this time, you cannot apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits online. If you wish to file for SSI benefits (aged, blind or disabled), contact the Social Security Administration immediately at 1-800-772-1213, so that you do not lose any potential benefits.

If you are filing for SSI disability for an adult or a child, you can complete the Disability Report online. You can also view the Fact Sheet and Checklist in the Disability Starter Kit to see what information you will need and the kinds of questions we will ask when you have your disability interview in your local Social Security office or over the phone. Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office right away so that you do not lose potential benefits, even if you complete the Disability Report online.

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Do I Have To Pay Income Tax On My Social Security Disability Benefits

ANSWER: Some people who get Social Security will have to pay taxes on their benefits. Less than one-third of our current beneficiaries pay taxes on their benefits.

You will have to pay taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an "individual" and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income that is more than $32,000.

For more information call the Internal Revenue Service's toll-free number, 1-800-829-3676. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the IRS toll-free TTY number, 1-800-829-4059. You can also access these publications on the IRS Web site at: http://www.irs.gov.

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How Much Can I Earn And Still Receive Disability Benefits

ANSWER: The Social Security Administration (SSA) has special rules called "work incentives" that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work. For example, there is a trial work period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.

The trial work period continues until you accumulate nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in which you perform what they call "services" within a rolling 60-month period. The SSA considers your work to be "services" if you earn more than $640 a month in 2007. For 2006, this amount was $620. After the trial work period ends, your benefits will stop for months your earnings are at a level the SSA considers "substantial," currently $900 in 2007. For 2006, this amount was $860. Different amounts apply to people who are disabled because of blindness.

For an additional 36 months after completing the trial work period, the SSA can start your benefits again if your earnings fall below the "substantial" level and you continue to have a disabling impairment. For more information about work incentives, we recommend that you read the leaflet, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help (SSA Publication Number 05-10095).

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What Is The Difference Between Social Security Disability And SSI Disability

ANSWER: The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for two major programs that provide benefits based on disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on prior work under Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Under SSI, payments are made on the basis of financial need.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is financed with Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons. To be eligible for a Social Security benefit, the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be "insured" for Social Security purposes. Disability benefits are payable to blind or disabled workers, widow(er)s, or adults disabled since childhood, who are otherwise eligible. The amount of the monthly disability benefit is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program financed through general revenues. SSI disability benefits are payable to adults or children who are disabled or blind, have limited income and resources, meet the living arrangement requirements, and are otherwise eligible. The monthly payment varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate, which may be supplemented by the State or decreased by countable income and resources. See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/notices/supplemental-security-income/text-benefits-ussi.htm for an explanation of SSI benefit payment rates.

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Can I File For Disability Benefits Online

ANSWER: Yes. You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online by going to: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/ and following the instructions.

You will find helpful links to the online forms you need to apply for disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. Reviewing and collecting the information shown in the Disability Starter Kit will help prepare you for your disability interview or to complete your online Disability Report. The Disability Report Form (SSA-3368) asks for information about your conditions or impairments that prevent you from working.

At this time, you cannot complete an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability online. If you are filing for SSI disability, you can complete the Disability Report Form online. You can view the Fact Sheet and Checklist in the Disability Starter Kit to see what information you will need and the kinds of questions we will ask when you have your disability interview in your local Social Security office or over the phone.

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Do Disabled Children Qualify For Benefits

ANSWER: There are two Social Security disability programs that include disabled children.

Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a child from birth to age 18 may receive monthly payments based on disability or blindness if:

  • He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the definition of disability for children

  • The income and resources of the parents and the child are within the allowed limits.

Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, an adult child (a person age 18 or older) may receive monthly benefits based on disability or blindness if:

  • The disability began before age 22

  • He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the definition of disability for adults

  • The adult child's parent worked long enough to be insured under Social Security and is receiving retirement or disability benefits or is deceased

Under both of these programs, the child must not be doing any "substantial" work, and must have a medical condition that has lasted or is expected either to last for at least 12 months or to result in death.

You will find helpful links to the online forms and the steps you need to take to apply for childhood disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. At this time, you cannot complete an application for SSI childhood disability online, but you can complete the Child Disability Report Form online. You can also view the Fact Sheet and Checklist in the Child Disability Starter Kit to see what information you will need and the kinds of questions the SSA will ask when you have your disability interview in your local Social Security office or over the phone. The Disability Report asks for information about the child's conditions or impairments.

Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office right away so that you do not lose potential benefits, even if you complete the Disability Report Form online.

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How Do I Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits

ANSWER: You can complete some or all of the forms online or call the SSA's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment and they will help you in person or by phone. You can apply for disability benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.

You can find the most convenient Social Security office at www.socialsecurity.gov/locator/

People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll-free "TTY" number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Disability Starter Kit will help you get ready for your disability interview or help you complete the online application. Kits are available in English and Spanish for adults and for children under age 18.

The starter kit provides information about the specific documents and the information that the SSA will request from you. The SSA will ask for more details during the disability interview or when you complete the online Child or Adult Disability Report Form.

The kits also provide general information about the disability programs and their decision-making process that can help take some of the mystery out of applying for disability benefits.

Each Disability Starter Kit contains a:

  • Fact sheet that answers questions most people ask about applying for disability benefits

  • Checklist of documents and information we will request

  • Worksheet to help you gather and organize the information you will need for your disability interview or to complete the online forms.

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Does Social Security Use A List Of Impairments To Determine If I Get Disability

ANSWER: For an adult to be considered disabled by Social Security Administration (SSA), you must have a medical condition that prevents you from working and that is expected to last for at least one year or result in death. The SSA uses a five-step process to decide whether you are disabled. As part of that process, they check to see if you have a condition as described in the listing of impairments. If you do, they consider your medical condition to be disabling. Even if your particular medical condition is not on the list, you may still be found disabled.

For more information about the disability decision process, we recommend that you read the booklet, Social Security Disability Benefits (Publication No. 05-10029). The booklet explains the requirements for receiving disability benefits and the five-step process.

You also can find descriptions of the conditions that appear in the "Listing of Impairments" in the publication, "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security" (SSA Publication No. 64-039), also referred to as "The Blue Book." This publication is intended primarily for physicians and other health professionals.

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How Long Does It Take To Get Notified Of A Decision About Disability Benefits

ANSWER: The length of time it takes to receive a decision on your disability claim is from 3 to 5 months. It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:

  • The nature of your disability

  • How quickly the SSA obtains medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source

  • Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim

  • If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision

If you have further questions, you may call the Social Security Administration's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778.

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Can I Receive Social Security Benefits And SSI

ANSWER: You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits, if your Social Security benefit is low enough to qualify.

The amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. Effective January 2007, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $623 per month and $934 per month for an eligible couple. However, many states add money to the basic check.

Following is a list of some States that supplement the basic SSI amount with a link to more information about that State:

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county. For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, or some other social services. For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office.

For more information, you should read Social Security pamphlet "Supplemental Security Income".

Call the Social Security Admin. toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to find out if you might be eligible for SSI in your state.

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Is There A Limit On Social Security Disability Benefits

ANSWER: No. Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. Your case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled.

If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, they will automatically be converted to retirement benefits.

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If I Go Back To Work, Will I Automatically Lose My Disability Benefits

ANSWER: No, the Social Security Administration has several work incentives that may help you to return to work without losing your benefits.

For more information about Social Security's work incentives you should: - call their toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213; or contact your local Social Security office. For more information on SSA's work incentive rules, see also the Red Book on Work Incentives.

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Why Is There A Five Month Waiting Period For Social Security Disability Benefits

ANSWER: The five month waiting period ensures that during the early months of disability, they do not pay benefits to persons who do not have long-term disabilities. Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. Therefore, Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began.

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What Are Credits And How Do I Earn Them

ANSWER: Credits are based on the amount of your earnings. You can earn up to a maximum of four credits each year when you work in a job or operate your own business as a self-employed person and pay Social Security taxes.

Each year the amount of earnings needed for credits goes up slightly as average earnings levels increase. In 2007, you earn one credit for each $1,000 of your earnings. So if you have earned at least $4,000 during the year, you get the maximum 4 credits. In 2006, the amount for one credit was $970.

The credits you earn remain on your Social Security record even if you change jobs or have no earnings for a while. The SSA uses your work history to determine your eligibility for retirement or disability benefits or your family's eligibility for survivors benefits when you die.

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Do Disability Benefits Change Once I Turn Retirement Age

ANSWER: When you reach full retirement age, nothing will change, except for Social Security purposes, your benefits will be called retirement benefits instead of disability benefits.

Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you will get your benefits with no limit on your earnings. These new rules apply for the entire year of 2000, starting in January.

What is Your Full Retirement Age?
Year of Birth Full Retirement Age
1937 & Earlier 65 yrs old
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943-1954 66 yrs. old
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 9 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or Later 67 yrs. old

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I Receive Disability And My Condition Has Worsened. Can My Benefits Be Increased

ANSWER: No. Your Social Security disability benefit is based on the amount of your lifetime earnings before your disability began and not the degree or severity of your disability.

For more information go to: www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dapproval2.htm

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What Is The Earliest Age That I Can Receive Disability Benefits

ANSWER: There is no minimum age as long as you meet the very strict social security definition of disability. But to qualify for disability benefits you must have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise.

The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.

Go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dqualify3.htm to see how many credits you may need to qualify for disability benefits.

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Can A Child Born Outside Of Marriage Be Entitled To Benefits

ANSWER: Even though a child was born to a second mother, the child may qualify for Social Security benefits. An application should be filed on her behalf and if eligible, all children would receive equal benefits.

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What Is The "Ticket To Work" Program

ANSWER: The Ticket to Work Program is an innovative program from the Social Security Administration that:

  • Increases beneficiary choice in obtaining rehabilitation and vocational services to help them go to work and attain their employment goals

  • Removes barriers that require people with disabilities to choose between health care coverage and work

  • Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim

  • Assures that more Americans with disabilities have the opportunity to participate in the workforce and lessen their dependence on public benefits

The Ticket Program is free and voluntary and will offer SSA beneficiaries with disabilities/blindness a greater choice in obtaining the services they need to help them go to work.

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How Many Credits Are Required To Be Eligible For Disability

ANSWER: The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Also, the credits must have been earned within a certain time period. Generally, you need 20 credits earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled.

Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. For example:

  • A worker who becomes disabled before age 24 needs to have earned six credits in the three-year period ending when disability starts.

  • A worker who becomes disabled between age 24 to age 31 needs to have credits for half the time between age 21 and the time disability starts. If disability starts at age 27, the worker would need credit for three years of work (12 credits)) out of the past six years between age 21 and age 27.

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If I Reapply For Disability, Will My Wait Be As Long As The First Time

ANSWER: If you become disabled a second time within five years after your previous disability benefits stopped, there is no waiting period before benefits start. If your claim is approved, you can receive benefits for the first full month of disability.

It can take from three to five months to get a decision on a disability claim, depending on how long it takes to obtain your medical records and any other information we need to decide whether you are disabled. You can help shorten this time by providing as much information as possible when you apply for benefits.

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Are Children Born Prematurely Eligible For SSI Benefits

ANSWER: Social Security does provide SSI disability benefits to certain low birth weight infants, whether or not they are premature. A child who weighs less than 1200 grams (about 2 pounds, 10 ounces) at birth can qualify for SSI on the basis of low birth weight, if otherwise eligible.

A child who weighs between 1200 and 2000 grams at birth (about 4 pounds 6 ounces) AND who is considered small for his or her gestational age may also qualify. For this second category of low birth weight infants, the following chart shows the gestational age at birth and corresponding birth weight that satisfies our "small for gestational age" criterion.

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Gestational Age Weight at Birth (in weeks) Weight at Birth
37-40 Less than 2000 grams (4 pounds, 6 ounces)
36 1875 grams or less (4 pounds, 2 ounces)
35 1700 grams or less (3 pounds, 12 ounces)
34 1500 grams or less (pounds, 5 ounces)
33 1325 grams or less (2 pounds, 15 ounces)

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What Is A Disability Trial Work Period

ANSWER: The trial work period allows Social Security disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months. During the trial work period, you can receive full benefits no matter how much you earn, as long as you continue to have a disabling impairment and you report your work activity. The trial work period continues until you have completed nine trial work months within a 60-month period.

In 2006, any month in which you earn $620 or more counts as one of the trial work months. For 2007, this amount is $640.

After your trial work period ends, the SSA looks at your earnings to determine whether you are working at a level they consider substantial. If you are, your cash benefits will stop. In 2007, average monthly earnings of $900 are considered substantial. For 2006, the amount was $860. There are different limits for people disabled because of blindness.

If you continue to work, there are other rules that allow you to receive benefits. For 36 months following completion of the trial work period, you can receive your full Social Security disability benefit for any month in which your earnings fall below the "substantial" level.

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Can A Person With A Terminal Illness Qualify For Disability Benefits

ANSWER: Yes. The requirements for disability benefits are the same for a person with a potentially terminal illness as for a person with a non-terminal illness.

The Social Security Administration makes every effort to identify a case involving a person with a potentially terminal illness as early in the claims process as possible and have special procedures we follow to process the claim as quickly as possible. They may become aware of the potentially terminal illness through statements from the person claiming disability, or from the person's friend, family member, doctor or other medical source. Or there may be an allegation or diagnosis of AIDS, or indications that the person is registered in a Medicare-designated hospice, is receiving hospice care. Regardless of the potentially terminal illness or how they learn about it, they tightly control the case throughout the claims process and make special efforts to assist the person in providing necessary evidence.

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If A Disability Must Last 1 Year, Must I Wait A Year To Apply

ANSWER: No. You do not have to wait a year after becoming disabled to receive disability benefits. However, you should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take a long time to process an application for disability benefits (three to five months).

If your application is approved, your first Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began.

For example, if the state agency decides your disability began on January 15, your first disability benefit will be paid for the month of July. However, Social Security benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due, so you will receive your July benefit in August.

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Does Private Disability Protection Reduce Your Social Security Benefits

ANSWER: No. Your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is not affected by any private insurance you may have. But, you may be interested to know that worker's compensation and certain other public disability payments may affect your Social Security benefit.

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What Are The Non-Medical Requirements For Disability

ANSWER: To receive Social Security Disability benefits a person must meet Social Security's definition of disability and meet certain non-medical eligibility requirements. Examples of non-medical eligibility requirements include proof of age, employment, marital status, or Social Security coverage information.

State agencies (usually called Disability Determination Services or DDS's) make the medical determination on a claim.

Local Social Security offices are responsible for verifying non-medical eligibility requirements.

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What Is The Definition of a Disability For Children Filing For Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

ANSWER: Social Security has a strict definition of disability for children under the SSI program. A child is disabled if he or she:

  • Is not working at a job that the SSA considers to be substantial work

  • Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in "marked and severe functional limitations." This means that the condition(s) very seriously limits his or her activities

  • The condition(s) has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 1 year or is expected to result in death.

To decide whether your child is disabled, the SSA looks at medical and other information (such as information from schools and from you) about his or her condition(s), and they consider how the condition(s) affects his or her daily activities. The SSA considers questions such as:

  • What activities is your child not able to do, or is limited in doing?
  • What kind of and how much extra help does your child need to perform age-appropriate activities, for example, special classes at school, medical equipment?
  • Do the effects of treatment interfere with your child's day-to-day activities?

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Are There Special Services or Social Security Information Available For People Who Are Blind

ANSWER: There are a number of services and products specifically designed for people who are blind.

You can choose to receive letters from the SSA by regular mail only, by regular mail followed by a telephone call to explain the information in the letter, or by certified mail.

The SSA provides special tapes of their publications to local radio stations that offer reading services for their blind and low-vision listeners. To find out which stations in your area provide radio reading services, you should call your local Social Security office.

Many publications are available in Braille, audio cassette tapes, compact disks or in enlarged print for people who are blind or visually impaired.

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Can An Adult Disabled From Childhood Receive Benefits on a Parent's Earnings Record

ANSWER: An adult disabled before age 22 may be eligible for child's benefits if a parent is deceased or receiving retirement or disability benefits. The SSA considers this a "child's" benefit because it is paid on a parent's Social Security earnings record. The SSA makes the disability decision using the disability rules for adults.

The "adult child", including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or step grandchild, must be unmarried, age 18 or older, and have a disability that started before age 22.

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