If you are disabled and applied or intend to apply for Social Security disability through the Social Security Administration, you may be wondering whether you can work. Getting an answer may seem complicated when you take a look at the tangle of rules and regulations that govern the SSD program, but the information in this article may provide some answers.
Two disability programs
The Social Security Administration oversees two programs providing financial assistance to individuals unable to work because of one or more disabilities. The Supplemental Security Income program assists individuals who are blind or disabled without regard to their age. It also provides benefits to individuals who are 65 years of age or older. SSI is a need-based program, which means it puts stringent limits on the value of the assets you own and the income you are allowed to receive.
Social Security Disability, which you will frequently see abbreviated as SSD or SSDI, does not impose the same restrictions on the value of assets you own. There are, however, limits on how much you can earn through employment or self-employment.
Eligibility for SSDI differs from SSI by imposing a requirement that you must have established a qualifying history of having worked and paid Social Security taxes. A work history is not necessary to apply for SSI.
Employment while receiving disability payments under SSI
If you qualify for SSI because you are disabled or blind, it need not mean the end of your independence by not being allowed to obtain employment. SSA offers incentives that encourage people to work, but you should be aware that what you earn may reduce your benefits. The amount of income earned may not exceed the income limits for SSI recipients allowed under the law in your state.
Because the earned income allowed differs from state to state, you should consult with an experienced disability attorney. If your benefits have been stopped because you earned too much, the attorney can help you be reinstated through an expedited process that may not require the filing of a new application for disability. Conditions may apply, so discuss it with the attorney.
How much can I earn while on SSD?
If you want to work while receiving SSDI benefits, you need to understand something the SSA refers to as “substantial gainful activity.” In order to receive SSDI benefits, you cannot be capable of engaging in substantial gainful activity, and one measure of SGA is your monthly income.
The monthly income limits change each year. For 2021, you will be deemed to be engaging in SGA when your monthly earned income exceeds $1,310, which is an increase from the 2020 cap of $1,260. The 2020 cap of $2,110 for individuals receiving benefits because they are blind increases to $2,190 in 2021.
Here is the part where working while receiving SSDI benefits gets complicated. Social Security offers work incentive programs that allow you to get back into the workplace without losing your benefits, but you must comply with the rules of the programs.
The SSA Ticket to Work program offers recipients of SSDI benefits the following:
- Vocational rehabilitation at no cost.
- Job training.
- Referrals to employment opportunities.
Recipients of SSDI have the opportunity to work for a trial period of up to nine months without having their earnings affect their SSDI benefits. The trial months do not have to be consecutive, but they must be used within a period of 60 months.
Trial months are defined in 2021 as any month during which you earn $940, which is an increase from 2020 when it was $910. Keep in mind that the amount you earn in a month will affect your benefits when it exceeds the substantial gainful activity cap of $1,310 or $2,190 if you are receiving benefits because you are blind.
When the trial period ends, you have the opportunity of working for another 36 months with benefits as long as your monthly income does not exceed the substantial gainful activity limits. If you lose your benefits because you exceeded the SGA limit, you may apply for reinstatement under an expedited process provided continue to be disabled.
As a condition to participating in programs permitting you to work while collecting benefits, you must report the following to SSA:
- When you start working at a job.
- When you stop working at a job.
- When your hours, duties, or salary changes.
- When you incur expenses at work related to your disability.
Reporting disability-related costs related to transportation, counseling services, or other expenses incurred because of your disability allows SSA to deduct them from and lower your monthly earnings and protect your eligibility for benefits.
Get advice from a disability attorney
The opportunity to work while collecting Social Security Disability should only be taken after a consultation with an experienced disability attorney. At the Law Office of Daniel Berger, we understand how confusing the Social Security disability process can be, but we want you to rely on us to get you through it. Find out more about working while on Social Security Disability and get answers to your questions by visiting our website or calling us at (855) 444-7024 for a free consultation.