There’s a common misconception that working will automatically cause your Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits to terminate. In certain circumstances, you can work and maintain your benefits. But because the premise of disability is that you are too injured or ill to work, picking up extra income can affect your payments. In short, any work one does (whether for profit or as a volunteer) could affect their eligibility for benefits, but as with all things, the answer depends on several factors.
At Nikolaus & Hohenadel, we strive to ensure our clients understand their legal rights when it comes to SSD. If you have questions about whether you can work, or how it will affect your SSD benefits, turn to us.
Work and SSD Benefits: What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?
The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) rules allow for people on disability to earn some amount of income in addition to their monthly benefits. But there is also the expectation that this income will not exceed certain thresholds they have set, or benefits may be stopped as a matter of rule. To continue collecting SSD disability, the recipient must be unable to engage in what it calls Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA.
A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount is considered to be performing SGA, and therefore will no longer qualify for disability. The amount varies between blind and non-blind individuals. For blind individuals, it is $2,110 per month as of 2020; for non-blind individuals, it is $1,260 per month. As long as you continue to be disabled, you are allowed to earn up to the applicable monthly limit….in theory. However, it is not really that simple, other considerations such as whether a person has earned above their Trial Work Period earnings (see below), the type of work the person is doing and the number of hours being worked may lead SSA to determine the person is capable of working full-time and not be eligible for SSD payments.
The above amounts are gross, meaning before taxes are taken out. You should pay close attention to your earnings, especially if you are paid weekly during a month that has five weeks.
Also, note that the information in this article and the amounts mentioned within apply to recipients of SSD (also referred to as SSDI) benefits. Another program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), has different income rules.
Can I Deduct Work-Related Expenses From Monthly Earnings?
If you have a disability and work, you may need special equipment, training, or services to assist you. Under the SSA’s disability rules, you can generally deduct impairment-related work expenses when reporting your income. This is a fairly broad rule that allows a recipient to deduct the cost of virtually anything that can be shown as necessary to get to or from work or perform work. That includes things you might also use outside of work, such as a wheelchair. In other words, the item purchased can have personal use as well.
What Is The Trial Work Period?
The SSA encourages people who are able to return to work to do so. But they also understand that a disabled individual cannot just jump back into the workforce. Indeed, you may try to return to work, only to find that your condition continues to be a hindrance. Fortunately, SSA offers what is called the trial work period.
During a trial work period, you can receive full SSD benefits no matter how much you earn (even above the SGA limit), as long as you report your work activity and you remain disabled according to SSA rules. SSA allows you to work up to nine months during this period without being penalized. .
A month is considered any period in which an individual works and earns more than a certain set amount. For 2020, that amount is $910 per month. If you own your own business, the trial month is reached once you work 80 hours in a given month.
You can work your nine months at any time – even non-consecutively – during a 60 month period. In other words, if you work nine months during the 60-month period, you will have exhausted your trial work period. At the end of the trial, if you continue working and earn above the SGA level, your benefits may stop.
What Happens After The Trial Period?
Once the trial period ends, you have 36 months during which you may work and still receive benefits for any month during which your earnings don’t exceed the above SGA limits. This is known as the extended eligibility period. No new application or decision regarding your disability is necessary to receive payments during this period.
If your benefits end because you earn too much, you have five years to request SSA to restart your benefits if you again become unable to work. You do not need to file a new application or wait for benefits to start again while SSA reviews your medical condition.
How Is Medicare Affected?
If your disability payments stop because you earn too much, but you are still disabled, your Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least 93 months after the nine-month trial work period ends. After that time, you can purchase Medicare Part A coverage by paying a monthly premium. Meanwhile, if you have Medicare Part B coverage, you have to continue paying the premium. You can terminate Part B coverage by requesting in writing for it to end.
Do I Need An Attorney for Work-Related Issues and SSD Benefits?
Before you attempt to work, it’s a good idea to understand how the income rules will apply and potentially affect your SSD benefits. You will likely want to start with a trial period to see if you can work, which lets you take advantage of the SSA rules allowing higher earnings. But it’s important to know how to report your earnings, and what sort of deductions for work-related expenses you may be able to make.
Social Security benefits help disabled individuals and families. But people often still fall short of meeting their financial obligations. We want disability recipients to take full advantage of their benefits and also go back to work if they are able.
Contact Our Lancaster SSD Attorney for Any Questions Regarding SSD Benefits and Work
If you have questions about SSD benefits and your ability to work, let us know. Give us a call today for a free consultation.