As we have discussed in prior articles you need to be completely disabled and incapable of working to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Generally speaking, that means you cannot work part-time and collect Social Security disability. As with most rules, however, there are exceptions.
In this case, the exception is substantial gainful activity (SGA). You may be able to work part-time while you apply for Social Security disability benefits as long as your earnings do not exceed the monetary threshold that Social Security Administration (SSA) sets every year. In 2020, SGA was income of more than $1,260 per month for a non-blind applicant and $2,110 per month for a blind applicant. In 2021, SGA is set to increase to $1,310 for a non-blind individual and $2,190 for a blind individual.
Most applications for disability benefits are not clear-cut, though, and continuing to work while you apply for them may not be viewed favorably by SSA. If the claims examiner reviewing your application or the judge presiding over your hearing sees that you can work, even under the SGA level, he or she may not believe you are truly disabled.
It is also possible that he or she may believe that if you can work at a moderately demanding part-time job, you may be able to work full-time at an easier job, which would make you ineligible for disability benefits. Worse, they may think you are working part-time because you cannot find a full-time job, not because you suffer from a medical condition that keeps you from working full-time.
Regardless of whether your part-time earnings are higher or lower than SGA, SSA will look into the kind of work you do part-time and how many hours you work. Even if you do not earn a lot of money, that does not mean that your part-time work is insubstantial; in contrast, high wages do not necessarily reflect meaningful work.
If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, but your condition has improved and you would like to try working again, SSA may be able to help with its Ticket to Work program. Participation in the program will allow you engage in a trial work period, during which you will continue to receive disability benefits. A trial work period will end after you have worked successfully for up to nine months.
In the event that you continue working above the SGA level after your trial work period ends, your disability benefits will cease. If you subsequently have to stop working because of the same medical condition that caused you to apply for benefits in the first place, you have five years to ask SSA to restart your disability payments without having to file a new application.