Published on: September 1, 2017
Receiving disability benefits can be likened to running a marathon, where applying and being accepted for benefits is the first lap of a long race. Applying for disability benefits is a lengthy and often stressful process. So once you receive that acceptance letter, it can be a great sigh of relief. Only 35% of applications are accepted by the SSA, so this is great news for you.
The application process, however, is just one of the steps you need to follow in order to obtain and maintain your benefits. The SSA has guidelines that it requires recipients of disability benefits to follow so they can continue to be eligible to receive these benefits. The guidelines include work and income requirements, as well as updates on the status of your health and living situation.
#1: Balancing Working and Receiving Benefits
When you're receiving benefits, there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained if you choose to start working. Because disability benefits only replace about 40% of an average wage income, many recipients are inclined to seek other sources of income in order to cover the deficit.
The SSA encourages disabled persons to try and get back to work if they can. They offer a trial work period of 9 months, where you can continue to receive benefits as you engage in work activities. During this period, you are required to report income that you earn to the SSA, even if you’re self-employed. In order for a particular month to fall under the trial work period, you should have earned a minimum of $780 in income during that month.
In case you use up all your trial work months, you are still eligible to continue to receive benefits for an additional 36-month period while you work. This is as long as your income is not considered substantial and over the limit that is set by the SSA (the limit is currently about $1,170/month).
Applicants who have their benefits stopped for receiving a substantial income have an extended 5-year period where they can apply for expedited reinstatement of their benefits in case they have to stop working.
#2: Be Aware of Changes That Occur Due to Your Living Situation
Recipients of SSI may have their benefits affected by their living arrangements. Those who move into senior living or other retirement accommodations may have their benefits altered based on financial need and living circumstances. The SSA might consider your new accommodation as “in-kind” income, and the amount may be subtracted from your current benefits.
For example, the base rate for those who are eligible for SSI is 735.00. Any income that you earn as cash through work, or in-kind through shelter and accommodation, is subtracted from this base amount based on varying formulas for earned and unearned income. The SSA will, therefore, determine how your new living arrangements are reducing your expenses when adjusting your benefit amount.
#3: Your Health can Affect Your Disability Rate
When you become eligible for disability benefits, your case is categorized either under MIE- Medical Improvement Expected, MIP- Medical Improvement Possible, or MINE- Medical Improvement Not Expected. Cases that fall under MIE mean that their medical condition is expected to improve over time.
The SSA will, therefore, carry out continuing reviews of your medical condition to see if any improvements have been made. This process is often referred to as a Continuing Disability Review (CDR), and it can be carried anywhere between 6 months to 2 years. The same applies to MIP, but a review is often carried out in 2-5 years.
You are required to continue to seek any prescribed treatments by your doctor during this time so that any improvements that are likely can be determined. In fact, you may be jeopardizing your eligibility to continue to receive benefits if you are not following recommended treatment plans.
For applicants who fall under MINE, the SSA will consider your medical condition as unlikely to improve. A review may still be carried every 5-7 years, but you will generally continue to receive benefits for a longer period without review if your medical condition is bucketed under MINE.
What Not to Do
In order to continue receiving benefits, you should not hide your income, your ability to work, or your medical condition from the SSA. This can lead to a termination of your benefits for not disclosing required information.
You could also be held liable to pay taxes for any income that you don’t report while you’re receiving disability benefits. Honesty and transparency are the keys for continued eligibility.