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Working Part Time While On Social Security Disability Benefits

Many Americans with disabilities (and a lot of beneficiaries of Social Security disability benefits) wonder if they can work part time to supplement their current disability benefits payments. The process of applying for these disability benefits can be arduous. If you have gone through the application process and been denied several times before getting your application accepted, you may be wary of jeopardizing your hard-earned benefits.

This is understandable. The ability to generate income over a specified amount called “Substantial Gainful Activity” is a major component of determining whether your disability is severe enough. If you are found capable of Substantial Gainful Activity, you may be disqualified from obtaining disability benefits.

However, the Social Security Administration allows beneficiaries to work under that threshold and has created Work Incentive programs to allow beneficiaries of disability benefits to test their ability to work part time without compromising their benefits – at least in the short term.

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Part-Time Work Limits While Applying For Disability Benefits

Understanding the concept of “Substantial Gainful Activity” is essential to ensuring you don’t jeopardize your current disability benefits or your application for benefits. They are relevant to two disability benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

How the concept of “SGA” applies will differ for SSDI and SSI. Recipients of SSDI benefits must be found disabled – as in they cannot partake in Substantial Gainful Activity due to a disabling condition – and must have qualifying work history. Meanwhile, recipients of SSI must have little to no income or resources, and must have a disability (this is where SGA as a concept applies), be blind or must be 65 or older.

You may be able to work part-time while receiving Social Security disability benefits if your hours worked per week and your generated income do not exceed the threshold considered “Substantial Gainful Activity.”

Work Incentives and Disability Benefits

Work incentives are programs that allow people to work part-time or for a trial period while still receiving SSDI or SSI benefits. Each program has different rules for qualification, as well as how much you can work (and for how long) while still receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Understand that our description of work incentives is not comprehensive, and the Social Security Administration’s Red Book provides a complete description of employment support programs.

Work Incentives for both SSDI and SSI beneficiaries include:

  • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) – If you are disabled and currently working, the IRWE program covers work expenses related to your disability. For example, if your medical condition forces you to rely on counseling services, service animals or transportation to your job, and you’re paying for these services out of pocket, you may have these expenses deducted from your earnings or income when determining eligibility. 
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) – Beneficiaries can create a PASS (Plan to Achieve Self Support) in order to reduce their dependence on disability benefits over time or no longer rely on it for daily living. The PASS assists beneficiaries in getting items, services or programs that would help them achieve their desired employment path. Income used to pay for your work goals would be deducted from your earnings when it comes to your continued eligibility for SSDI or SSI.
  • Ticket to Work Program – The Social Security Administration’s “Ticket to Work” program is a free and voluntary development program for individuals aged 18-64 who currently receive disability benefits and want to become employed. You may work with either an employment network or a Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. After you are assigned your ticket, you collaborate with the Social Security Administration to describe your timeline of gaining and keeping employment.
  • Subsidies and Special Conditions – If you’re receiving some kind of accommodation, help or supervision at your job, the Social Security Administration may determine that there is a difference between the value of your actual work versus what you earn at your job. This “difference” is taken off the calculation of what you earn. This can make the difference between earning too much to qualify for SSDI or SSI, versus earning just under the limit.
  • Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) – If you had a disability and your benefits ended because you were able to generate sufficient income, you can request reinstatement within five years (assuming your disability becomes impairing again) without having to submit a new application. In the meanwhile, you can get provisional benefits while you await approval of your request. This occurs only if you request expedited reinstatement within five years from the month your benefits ceased. While the Social Security Administration determines if you are eligible, you will receive temporary benefits for up to 6 months.
  • Unsuccessful Work Attempts – If you tried to work but, within 6 months or less, your job either ended or couldn’t generate income above SGA levels because of your disability or because of a loss of disability-related accommodations.
  • Continued Payments Under a Vocational Rehabilitation Program – If you recover from your impairment, you can still receive temporary disability benefits while participating in a vocational rehabilitation program.

Work Incentives for SSDI only include:

  • Trial Work Period – An individual receiving Social Security disability benefits is allowed a “trial work period,” during which they can test their ability to work (with no income cap) without losing their disability benefits. Until you worked nine months out of a rolling 60-month period, work performed during the trial work period won’t be used as “proof” that you recovered from your disability. The amount of monthly income considered “services performed” during a trial work period is updated yearly.
  • Extended Period of EligibilityAfter your Trial Work Period ends (even if you’re not working that month), your extended period of eligibility begins. The next 36 months constitute what’s called an “extended period of eligibility.” During this period, you get monthly benefits for each month that your earnings don’t meet the threshold of substantial gainful activity. Payments are suspended when you earn above the threshold. If your earnings continually fall under that threshold, you may be reinstated for disability benefits. 
  • Continuation of Medicare – After your Trial Work Period ends, your Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least another 93 months. You can buy the same coverage after that by paying a monthly premium. If you want to continue Medicare Part B coverage, you have to keep paying the premium, and you have to make a written request if you want to end the coverage.
  • Un-incurred Business Expenses – Things typically written off as business expenses, such as a computer for work or an employee to help with administrative tasks, can be deducted from your total earnings even if you didn’t pay for those expenses as part of your self-employment.

Work Incentives for SSI only include:

  • Earned Income Exclusion – The first $65 of your monthly earnings, plus one half of your remaining earnings do not “count” when determining your SSI payment amount. This is in addition to a $20 general income exclusion, which is applied first to unearned income.
  • Student Earned-Income Exclusion – Beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of SSI payments may have some of their earnings excluded if they are under age 22 and regularly attend school or a training program. The amounts excluded are adjusted each year. This amount is applied before general income exclusion or earned income exclusion.
  • Continuation of SSI – If you have a disability and continue to work (even at the level of SGA), you may continue to receive SSI payments until your combined earnings and income exceed the SSI limits. This limit differs by state. Alternatively, if you were ineligible for SSI for reasons unrelated to medical recovery from disability, you may be able to restart SSI cash payments without a new application.
  • Continuation of Medicaid – You may be able to continue your Medicaid coverage after losing your SSI cash payments if you are still disabled, need Medicaid to work, and generally meet all SSI eligibility rules except for earnings.

Reporting Work Activity While Receiving Disability Benefits

If you receive SSDI or SSI benefits each month, you will need to notify the Social Security Administration if:

  • You start working.
  • You stop working.
  • Your responsibilities, pay or hours change at your current job.
  • You start paying work-related expenses because of your disability.

Consult A Social Security Disability Attorney Today

If you want to know how to work part-time without jeopardizing your Social Security disability benefits (or application for benefits), discuss your situation with a Social Security disability attorney. We offer free consultations and our services, should you choose to retain us, do not cost you anything out of pocket.

Understanding the rules regarding part-time work and various work incentive programs is crucial to keeping your benefits while retaining or exploring part-time work opportunities. If you reach out to us for a free consultation, we can better help you navigate the boundaries of part-time work as it relates to your disability benefits or application for SSDI and/or SSI. Call us today at 833-MY-DISABILITY.

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