Many people assume that you cannot work if you are receiving Social Security Disability. While that is generally true in most cases, there are some exceptions. If you meet the Social Security Administration’s specific criteria for working while on Social Security Disability, you may still be able to remain employed and receive benefits.
Can You Work While on Disability?
The only way an individual qualifies for Disability benefits is if they are able to prove they cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). This means that you make under a certain monetary amount each month, deemed “substantial” earnings by the Social Security Administration. Therefore, most recipients receive SSDI benefits in place of working. However, the following exceptions make working while on SSDI possible.
Work incentives include cash benefits, for a time, while you work. They also provide help with education, training and rehabilitation to start a new line of work. Work incentive employment helps disabled and blind SSI recipients go to work by minimizing the risk of losing their SSI or Medicaid benefits.
Trial Work Period
If you think you might be able to return to work, you are allowed a nine-month trial work period during which you will continue to receive your disability benefits in full, regardless of how much income you earn. The trial work period continues until you have used nine cumulative trial work months within a 5-year period.
Extended Period of Eligibility
After your trial work period, you have an extended period of 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any monthly earnings that fall below the established SGA limit. No new application or disability decision is required to receive benefits during this period.
If your Disability benefits stop because of substantial earnings, you have five years to request that your benefits start again if you’re unable to keep working due to your condition.
Impairment-Related Work Expenses
If you work and have a disability, you may need specific services or technology to assist you. The Social Security Administration may exclude from your earned income any out-of-pocket expenses you pay for certain items and services that relate to your disability that you need to work. This may include deductions on costs of co-pays, medications, counseling services, car modifications, assistive technology and more.
Ticket to Work Program
The Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program was designed to assist those receiving Disability benefits find work opportunities. Under the program, participants receive training, employment support, job referrals, and free vocational rehabilitation.
Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
If you are blind or have a disability, you may set up a Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) to set aside income or resources to meet expenses for reaching your work goal. The plan will help you get the items, services or skills you need to excel at your job. Under the program, you can use the money you receive for child care, attendant care, employment services, transportation to and from work, tuition, books, fees, and supplies for school, uniforms, clothing, and safety equipment for your job, and supplies to start a business. The goal is to help disabled individuals find employment that reduces or eliminates their dependence on SSI or SSDI benefits.
Under PASS, you must put an actual plan into writing, and Social Security must approve it. If you think you might qualify for PASS, contact your local Social Security office and request Form SSA-545-BK. If a PASS specialist rejects your plan, you can appeal the decision. And if you are approved, you can make changes to the plan over time.
Part Time Work
Can you work part time while on Disability? You can generally work part-time while you apply for Social Security disability benefits as long as your earnings do not exceed the monetary threshold that the Social Security Administration (SSA) sets every year. If you earn more than the SGA limit, you will no longer be eligible for benefits.
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.
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.
What are the Rules for Working While on SSDI?
Keep in mind that continuing to work while you apply for Disability benefits 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.
You can only work and continue to receive SSI benefits as long as your wages and other resources do not exceed the SSA’s income limit, however your monthly benefits will be reduced according to your income. You can view the monthly SGA amount here.
If you think that going back to work is something you would be interested in trying, speak with your Social Security Disability attorney and ask him or her what your options are. Remember that you must notify SSA if you start or stop work, you reported that you were working, but your duties, hours, or pay changed, or you start paying expenses for work because of your disability. You can report any changes to SSA via mail, phone, or in person.