Published on: January 20, 2024
The prospect of returning to work when you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits may seem slim. But many SSDI recipients do recover enough from their disabling impairment to attempt to perform some work.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has established rules and programs to support individuals who wish to work while on SSDI. In this blog post, we explore the rules governing how a disability benefits recipient can work and continue to receive their full benefits, how to remain eligible to regain your benefits without waiting, and how much you can earn while working and staying on SSDI.
At Disability Experts of Florida, we are committed to ensuring that every disability claimant is fully informed about the many options available to them while receiving SSDI benefits. In the past, some SSDI benefits recipients thought they would lose their benefits if they attempted to work. So many chose not to try to work. To encourage those who may be able to work to attempt to do so, the Social Security Administration created several pathways to let benefit recipients work without risking the monthly benefits they need to survive.
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
The SSA's primary focus when evaluating an SSDI recipient's work activity is determining whether they are engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). SGA is defined as work that involves significant physical or mental effort and results in earnings exceeding a certain threshold. As of 2024, the SGA threshold is $1,550 per month for non-blind individuals.
If an SSDI recipient's earnings exceed these thresholds, it may trigger a review of their eligibility for benefits. However, there are programs that allow you to exceed the income cap without losing benefits.
Trial Work Period (TWP)
To help SSDI recipients explore their employment options, the SSA provides a Trial Work Period (TWP). During the TWP, individuals can work and earn any amount without those earnings counting against their disability benefits. The TWP permits an SSDI benefit recipient to earn an unlimited income for nine months within a rolling 60-month period. The nine months do not have to be consecutive.
Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)
Following the TWP, the SSDI recipient enters the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), which lasts for 36 consecutive months. During the EPE, benefits are suspended for any month in which the individual's earnings exceed the SGA threshold. If their earnings drop below the SGA threshold in a subsequent month, they will be eligible to receive benefits again without needing to file a new application.
This "suspension and reinstatement" process continues throughout the EPE. If an individual's earnings consistently remain below SGA, their benefits continue uninterrupted. After the EPE, the SSDI recipient enters the "disability cessation" period, where benefits can be reinstated without a new application if they become unable to work again due to their disability.
Ticket to Work Program
The SSA understands that returning to work can be a complex process for individuals with disabilities. To support this transition, they offer the Ticket to Work program. This program provides access to a range of employment support services, including vocational rehabilitation, job training, career counseling, and job placement.
Here's how the Ticket to Work program works:
- Eligibility: SSDI recipients between the ages of 18 and 64 automatically receive a "ticket" to participate in the program. This ticket can be used to access employment support services from authorized service providers.
- Choosing a Service Provider: Individuals can choose from a list of authorized service providers in their area. These providers offer various services tailored to the individual's needs and goals.
- Receiving Services: Once a service provider is selected, the individual can begin receiving services aimed at helping them prepare for, find, and maintain employment.
- Protection from Medical Reviews: While participating in the Ticket to Work program, SSDI recipients are typically protected from medical reviews, which are periodic evaluations of their disability status. This protection provides peace of mind to those exploring employment opportunities.
- Achieving Self-Sufficiency: The ultimate goal of the Ticket to Work program is to help individuals with disabilities achieve greater self-sufficiency and financial independence. It's a valuable resource for those who wish to work but may need additional support to do so successfully.
Reporting Earnings and Changes
To maintain eligibility for SSDI benefits while working, it's essential to report earnings and any significant changes in your work status to the SSA. Failure to do so could result in overpayments, which you may be required to repay.
Returning to work while on SSDI can be a significant step toward greater independence and financial stability. The rules and programs in place, such as the Trial Work Period and the Ticket to Work program, are designed to support this transition.
If you're an SSDI recipient considering a return to work, you should contact an experienced disability attorney like Disability Experts of Florida who provide guidance tailored to people in your situation every day. We will help guide you through all the complexities of SSDI rules and regulations, and ensure you make informed decisions about your employment options while protecting your vital disability benefits.