Many people think that you are not able to work if you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). And, while that is generally true in most cases, there are some exceptions. If you meet certain criteria, you may be able to receive disability benefits while you work.
At the basic level, the only way you can qualify for disability benefits is if you cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). “Substantial” means more than a certain monetary amount each month, and that amount usually changes every year.
If you think you might be able to return to work, you are allowed a nine-month trial work period (TWP) during which you will continue to receive your disability benefits in full, regardless of how much income you earn. Once the TWP has ended, you can still receive disability benefits for any monthly earnings that fall below the established SGA limit. You can also benefit from a 36-month extended period of eligibility, and if your disability benefits stop because your income exceeds the SGA threshold, you have five years to get your benefits reinstated.
One thing to remember about the SGA limit: SSA will deduct some disability-related expenses before it totals your income for purposes of determining whether you remain eligible to receive disability benefits. For example, if you are unable to take public transportation because of your disability, but you can use a taxi or other car service, SSA will deduct your taxi expenses from your income first. Then, if you still fall under the SGA threshold, you will continue to receive your disability benefits.
Trial work periods are common, and the SSA encourages benefit recipients to utilize them. They have even developed special programs to assist those receiving disability benefits find work opportunities. For example, under SSA’s Ticket to Work Program, participants can receive training, employment support, job referrals, and free vocational rehabilitation. If you want to take advantage of the TWP, you do not need to complete a new application to continue receiving disability benefits while you return to work.
As mentioned, the SGA thresholds change every year. For 2019, a trial work month is any month your total earnings are greater than $880.00. Gainful activity is considered “substantial” if it is greater than $1,220.00 each month or $2,040.00 each month if you are blind. Should you lose your job during the trial period, your disability benefits will not be affected, and if you lose your job during the extended eligibility period, just notify SSA, and your benefits will be reinstated.
If your Social Security disability benefits cease because your earnings become too great, but you are still disabled, your Medicare Part A coverage will continue for 93 months after your 9-month trial ends; after that, you may purchase Part A coverage. If you have Medicare Part B coverage, you must continue to pay the monthly premiums, and the only way you can terminate your Part B coverage is to request termination in writing.
As with all things, the rules governing SSI are a little different, but the general intent is the same. If you are receiving SSI disability benefits, you can work and continue to receive SSI payments until your earnings exceed the SSI income limits, which vary by state. Even if your SSI payments cease, your Medicaid coverage will usually continue, as long as your income is less than the state limits for Medicaid.
SSI also has a return to work program called Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). The program is designed to help you obtain the items, skills, and services you need to reach your work goals. 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.
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.
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.