You can continue to receive your Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits while attempting to return to work. Please note, after a few small deductions, any income you receive will reduce your SSI benefits, if any, dollar for dollar.
If you work, then it is possible that at some point (depending on your earnings) your check could be stopped due to earning "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). In 2012, SGA is $1,010 per month. There is another "trip wire" which is considered before SGA, called "trial work period". In 2012, that amount is $720 per month. So, even relatively low earnings could result in SSA finding that a person is no longer entitled to a social security disability check.
For more information about working while disabled, you can go to ssa.gov and search for "The Red Book 2012", Publication No. 64-030, (2012 Red Book), January 2012.
As an SSD recipient you are entitled to try working for up to nine months without risk of losing your SSD benefits. This nine-month period is known as the “Trial Work Period”. During the Trial Work Period you will receive full benefits regardless of your income. Any month where you earn $720 or more in gross earnings or work more than 80 self-employed hours is considered a “trial work” month. If you make less than $720 in a given month it is not considered a trial work month and doesn’t count toward the nine month limit.
Note: The nine months do not need to be consecutive. The Social Security Administration will look at the last sixty months. If there are nine trial work months over the last sixty, it will trigger the “extended period of eligibility.”
After the nine-month Trial Work Period is over, the SSA will conduct a medical review to determine if you can work at the “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) level. SSA sets an SGA level each year. In 2012, the level is $1010 per month as a non-blind beneficiary and $1690 for the blind beneficiary. If SSA determines that you are able to continue to work at the “Substantial Gainful Activity” level, you will enter into the “Extended Period of Eligibility” (EPE). During this period you will not receive SSD benefits but you remain eligible for them. What this means is that for any given month where you make less than $1010 as a non-blind beneficiary and $1690 as a blind beneficiary you may request payment of your benefits. This extended period of eligibility lasts for thirty-six months. You will still receive your SSD benefits for the first three months of this period, because the first three months are considered a “grace period.”
Under SSA rules, work can only be counted if it is competitive in nature. Thus, any work that is “subsidized” is not counted. Subsidized means that you are earning more than your work is actually worth in the competitive job market. This may happen if you work in a “sheltered” work environment where specific measures are taken to support your disability and enable you to do your job; or, if you work for a compassionate employer who would not hire someone else to take your place if you stopped doing the job; or, if you need special support to perform the job. The value of the subsidized portion of the work you perform will be deducted from your actual gross pay to determine whether you are, or are not, performing at the SGA level. If not, you can continue to receive your full SSD benefit during and after the EPE.
If you are working at the SGA level after the thirty-six month extended period of eligibility ends, you are no longer eligible for SSD benefits. However, you may reapply for benefits any time in the future, and if you do so within five years following the expiration of the extended eligibility period it will qualify for an “expedited” reinstatement of benefits and will not require a full reapplication.
Disclaimer Information on this site is provided by Brian Scott Wayson as general information, not legal advice, and use of this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions about your specific situation, please call an attorney.