Working while on Disability
Social Security benefits are often vital if you are a person with a disability. Without these benefits, it can be a struggle to support yourself financially.
But what happens if you are receiving disability and it’s not enough? Or if you enjoyed your job and want to try to go back to work?
Can you go back to work and still receive Social Security Disability benefits?
Generally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not allow a person to receive benefits while performing “substantial gainful activity.” The SSA defines “substantial gainful activity” not in a physical or mental sense but as a monetary amount: $1,180 per month. That means if you earn $1,180 or more each month, you may be disqualified from receiving your benefits.
That being said, you are not required to stay out of the workforce forever. The SSA encourages people with disabilities to try to return to work if possible. The SSA gives SSDI recipients a trial period to test their ability to work and continue receiving their benefits, regardless of how much money they make at their job. The SSA also offers a program called “Ticket to Work” that provides employment support to people with disabilities.
Let’s explore these work incentives more in depth.
SSA Work Incentives
The Social Security Administration offers the following work incentives to people currently receiving disability benefits:
- Trial work period: The trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months. A month counts as a “trial work month” if you earn $850 or more. These months don’t have to be consecutive; the trial work period continues until you’ve used nine months in a 60-month (5-year) span of time. During this period, you can receive your benefits no matter how much you earn.
- Extended period of eligibility: If you are still working after your trial work period, the extended period of eligibility allows you to continue to receive your SSDI benefits. The extended period of eligibility lasts for 36 months (3 years) after your trial work period. You can still receive benefits if your earnings aren’t “substantial,” i.e. $1,180 per month. (That said, you may be able to make more than $1,180 per month and still qualify. This is because the SSA allows you to deduct expenses due to your disability from your earnings. These expenses include things like a wheelchair, prescription copayments, job coaching, and even transportation to work.)
- Expedited reinstatement: Let’s say that you are successful at returning to work for a while, but then your disability prevents you from working again. Expedited reinstatement means that you have 5 years to ask the SSA to renew your benefits. You also don’t have to file a new application or go through a waiting period.
- Medicare continuation: This incentive allows you to continue your Medicare coverage—even if your SSDI cash benefits stop because of your work earnings. You can continue to receive Medicare coverage part A and part B (if you pay the monthly premium) for up to 93 months after your trial work period.
Is Ticket to Work right for you?
You might consider the Ticket to Work program if you would like to test your ability to work and you would like support while doing so. Note that this program is completely voluntary: you do not have to participate, and there are no penalties for declining to participate.
Most people become eligible to participate in the Ticket to Work program as soon as they start receiving SSDI benefits. You are given a “ticket” that you can assign to an Employment Network (EN). Employment Networks are organizations or agencies (like Ohio’s Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation) that have agreed to provide employment support and vocational rehabilitation services. These services can include things like resume help, career counseling, assistance in job placement, training, and even continued education.
Here we should note that, while this program is free, it does come with a few strings.
In exchange for the services provided by an EN, the SSA requires you to develop a plan with the EN and complete the steps needed to achieve your goals. These goals might be things like working at a certain earnings level or completing education.
You are also required to make what’s called “Timely Progress.” The SSA performs a Timely Progress Review every 12 months after you begin your ticket, looking at whether or not you are making progress toward your goals.
Questions? Call Us!
The Social Security Disability Insurance system can be complex and confusing to navigate. If you have a disability and need help applying for SSDI benefits or have questions about how returning to work affects your benefits, we encourage you to call us. The Social Security Disability attorneys at Casper & Casper have years of experience helping people just like you, and we would be happy to answer your questions.