Going Back to Work
If you’re on disability, then you’ve come to count on your monthly benefits as a consistent source of income to pay bills and take care of everyday living expenses for your family.
The thought of trying to return to work may be exciting to you, but it can also be fear inducing if you’re uncertain how working will affect your benefits.
Blue Book vs. Medical Vocational Allowance Approvals
The first thing to know is that the manner in which you were granted benefits affects whether you can go back to work and still receive disability. If you were approved under a “medical vocational allowance,” then you’re considered unable to work in ANY job.
In other words, returning to work would mean your benefits could be cancelled. If you qualified for Social Security Disability under a standard listing in the Blue Book however, then you have work options and can still receive benefits.
Work Incentive and Assistance Programs
The Social Security Administration (SSA) encourages self-sufficiency by providing work incentive and assistance programs. These programs help you to protect your benefit eligibility while making work attempts or, in some cases, while working on full-time basis.
SSA work incentive and assistance programs include Ticket to Work, PASS, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Trial Work, among others.
Trial Work and SSDI Benefits
Although the SSA encourages you to test your limits, there are things that can trigger a pause in your payments or an end to your benefits.
If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you can work as long as you don’t earn more than a certain amount each month. That amount changes each year. In 2021, the threshold is $940. Any month in which you earn more counts toward your total “trial work period.”
Trial work is a total of nine month. If you exceed the earnings limit in ANY nine months WITHIN a five-year time frame, then your trial work period is over and the SSA evaluates your condition to determine if you are still disabled.
- If they find you aren’t disabled and therefore able to participate in “substantial gainful activity,” (SGA), then your disability benefits end. The SGA limit is also adjusted each year. For 2021, SGA is $1,310/ per month for a single, non-blind individial.
- If however they find you are still disabled, then you remain eligible for benefits for 60 months and will get disability as usual, as long as you do not earn over SGA each month. In any month in which you do hit SGA, you won’t receive a disability payment, but you’re still eligible for benefits regardless.
If you have to stop working due to disability and you’re within your 60-month window after a trial work period, then you can immediately go back on disability without submitting a new application.
Working While on SSI
If you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, any work you do can decrease the amount of your monthly benefits. This is because SSI is “need-based.”
Your finances determine whether you qualify and how much you can receive each month.
- Employment income that pushes you over the eligibility limit in any month will mean you don’t receive SSI that month, but you remain eligible.
- If your income ever hits double the amount of available monthly SSI, then you will no longer be eligible for benefits.
- Income from employment that doesn’t exceed eligibility limits may still cause your monthly SSI payment to be lower. This is because the SSA adjusts your payment according to a standard formula.
There is no trial work period with SSI, so there is no limit on how long you can work and remain eligible for benefits. If you lose SSI and later become disabled again, you can restart without a new application, as long as it’s within 12 months of when your benefits originally ended.
Get Assistance in Understanding the Rules
Disability is often hard for applicants to understand. The rules get even more challenging when talking about working and receiving benefits at the same time.
A Social Security attorney or advocate can assist with deciphering the rules and can help you protect your eligibility for benefits.