There are several requirements that the SSA has put in place for working while receiving disability benefits. SSDI and SSI disability benefits are normally granted on the basis that your disability is severe enough that it prevents you from participating in any substantial gainful activity—such as working.
The general rule is that if you are receiving more than $1,170/month in 2017 from working (or $1,920 if you’re blind), then the SSA will deny or discontinue your disability benefits.
However, there are certain circumstances under which you can continue to receive benefits while working. In fact, the SSA tries to encourage people to see if they are able to go back to work by offering certain incentives based on their benefits. This article will highlight the guidelines that the SSA requires when working with disability benefits.
Trial Work Period for Social Security Disability Benefits
Recipients of disability benefits are given a 9-month period to test their ability to work without any change in their benefit amount. Therefore, during this period, you will continue to receive your benefits even if you’re making more than the amounts specified as Substantial Gainful Activity ($1,170/month). In order for any specific month to fall under the trial work period, you should make a minimum of $840 during that month.
After the 9-month trial work period, you are immediately considered for what is called an extended period of eligibility. This is an additional 36-month period where you will be eligible to receive benefits during any particular month in which your income falls below the $1,170/month.
Once you have continued to show your ability to work and receive income that is above the SGA level, your benefits will be discontinued. You will, however, be granted a 5-year period where you can have your benefits reinstated (without having to apply again) if you are forced to stop working due to your disability. This is what is referred to as expedited reinstatement.
Income Limits for SSI Disability Benefits
As you begin to work and receive an income, your disability benefits will be adjusted according to your wages. The first $85 of your income is left as-is. After that, the SSA deducts 50 cents (from your disability benefit amount) for every dollar of income that you receive.
For example, if you made $1,250 during a particular month, the first $85 is left untouched ($1250-$85) = $1,165. From this remaining amount, 50 cents is deducted from your benefits for every dollar, therefore $1,165/2 = $582.50.
The amount of your disability benefit for that month will be reduced by $582.50. In 2017, the SSA pays up to $735 per month in benefits (this amount excludes any supplemental benefits that you may receive from your state). Therefore, if your monthly benefit is reduced by $582.50, you will receive about $152.50 from the SSA. In other words, you can earn about $1,500 before your benefit amount is reduced to zero.
If you continue to earn enough money, your benefits could reduce to zero and your payments stopped by the SSA. If this happens, you are still eligible for the additional 5-year period where your benefits can be reinstated if your disability prevents you from working.
Programs that Provide Work Incentives
The SSA supports the activities of applicants who would like to go back to work. They support several programs that provide incentives that make it easier for people to keep their benefits as they begin to work. These programs include the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), Work Expenses for Blind People, and Impairment-related work Expenses (IRWE).
PASS is a program that allows you to save part of your income to be used to pay for work-related items. Work Expenses for Blind People allows for those who are blind to exclude any and all expenses that relate to their job from their income. This enables them to receive a larger benefit amount because a lower amount is deducted from benefits based on their income.
Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) are costs that you incur while doing your job because you are disabled. Some of these costs can be excluded from your countable income in order for you to receive a larger benefit amount.
Submitting an Application while Working
As previously mentioned, SSDI and SSI benefits are normally granted on the basis that your disability is so severe that you cannot engage in a substantial amount of work. Therefore, submitting a disability application while working can decrease your chances of receiving benefits.
The judge or disability expert reviewing your application may not consider it as urgent because you are still able to work, even if your income falls below the SGA amount of $1,170/month. It is, therefore, important to speak with a disability advocate while the SSA is reviewing your application on what the best course of action is for you specifically.