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Social Security Disability Benefits While Working: A Delicate Balance

Follow The Rules And You Can Do Both

Most people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits assume that their working lives are over. Many fear that if they are employed in any manner they will jeopardize their right to receive this vital monetary and medical assistance.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) realized that even a recognized, permanent disability might not prevent future employment. In fact, the SSA currently has a “Ticket to Work” program that offers incentives for benefit recipients wanting to return to the workforce.

You do, however, need to follow certain procedures established by the SSA in order to ensure that your benefits are not temporarily or permanently affected – failure to comply could possibly even result in your having to repay money you previously received.

What Do I Need To Do?

When you are receiving SSDI and/or SSI benefits, you can work, but the amount of wages you receive may affect your benefits. In addition, you must report your wages and/or hours to the SSA by the 10th of the month after you performed the work. It is easy to do this: you can mail a statement to your nearest SSA District Office (DO) by certified mail, return receipt requested, you can fax your paycheck stubs to the DO or go to the office in person. Since the law requires that you be able to “prove” that you reported your earnings, we do not recommend that you call SSA with this information because there is no way to prove a telephone call.

The ‘Trial Work Period’ Incentive Plan

As part of the SSA’s initiative to get disability recipients back into the workforce, there is a “trial work period” (TWP) in which you are allowed to test your ability to work. You are allowed to earn as much money as you would like during the TWP while still receiving benefits. The trial period will continue until you perform “services” for nine (not necessarily consecutive) months during a five-year period. Earning $720 or more in a month in 2010 is considered performing services for one of your trial work period months. The amount changes each year with SSA’s COLA adjustments.

The ‘Extended Period Of Eligibility’ Benefit

For up to 36 months after the TWP end, your benefits will continue assuming your earnings fall below the definition of “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) and you are considered to still have a disabling impairment. Generally, you can earn up to $1,000 per month (the definition of SGA in 2010) and still get your benefits, though there are some exceptions. For example, if you are self-employed, you are subject to the $1,000 wage limitation and you also cannot work more than 80 hours in a calendar month. If you earn over the SGA amount after the end of the 36-month period your benefits will cease.

Still Have Questions? An Attorney Can Help

Provided you comply with regulations limiting the hours worked (only applicable to those who are self-employed), wages received and reporting your income to the SSA, it is likely that your benefits will not be interrupted (or that you will not be stopped from receiving future benefits). Should you have any questions about the steps involved in protecting your SSDI or SSI benefits while remaining in the workplace, the advice of an attorney with in-depth knowledge of the process can be invaluable.

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