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Working While on SSDI: The Rules and Impact on Benefits

Last updated: October 10, 2023

Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits doesn't necessarily mean that beneficiaries are prohibited from working. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides avenues for those receiving SSDI to engage in work while continuing to receive benefits, within certain limitations.

It's crucial to understand these rules to ensure continued SSDI eligibility and to avoid potential overpayments or other complications. In this guide, we’ll uncover the intricacies of working while on SSDI, helping beneficiaries understand the opportunities, limitations, and impacts on their benefits. 

Can You Work While Receiving SSDI Benefits?

A prevalent question among SSDI beneficiaries revolves around the potential to work while still receiving benefits. The SSA has established guidelines to accommodate beneficiaries who may want to explore returning to the workforce.

While the SSA encourages SSDI beneficiaries to attempt returning to work if they can, it's essential to remain informed about the rules and limits surrounding work activity. Staying within the guidelines ensures continued support from the SSDI program and avoids potential financial or legal complications. 

Trial Work Period (TWP)

The SSA's work incentive programs include a Trial Work Period (TWP), a nine-month span within a 60-month window where beneficiaries can work without affecting their SSDI benefits, regardless of income. This period is designed to encourage beneficiaries to assess their capacity to work without the fear of losing their benefits.

  • Duration: The TWP lasts for nine months within a 60-month period. These months don't have to be consecutive.

  • Earnings Threshold: In 2021, a month counted towards the TWP if the beneficiary earned more than $940. This amount may change, so it's essential to check the latest threshold each year.

  • Impact on Benefits: During the TWP, the beneficiary receives the full SSDI benefits regardless of their earnings.

Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

Post-TWP, beneficiaries enter the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), a 36-month phase where SSDI benefits continue unless earnings exceed the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold.

  • Grace Period: For the first three months of the EPE, beneficiaries receive full SSDI benefits regardless of their earnings.

  • Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA): After the grace period, beneficiaries can still receive benefits in any month their earnings fall below the SGA threshold. As of 2021, the SGA amount was $1,310 for non-blind individuals and $2,190 for blind individuals.

Should your income surpass the SGA during the EPE, benefits for that month will be suspended. However, if your income falls below the SGA in the following months within the EPE, benefits can be reinstated. It's crucial to remember that any work income may impact the total family benefit when a family maximum applies.

Navigating the complexities of working while on SSDI requires careful management to maintain eligibility and optimize benefits. If you're contemplating employment while receiving SSDI, it's advisable to seek guidance from a professional or a Social Security representative.

Additional Resources: Understanding the SSDI Appeal Process

Oftentimes, not understanding your SSDI eligibility can lead to unsuccessful applications. If your initial application for SSDI benefits is not successful, don't lose hope. The SSA has established an appeal process for denied SSDI applications. This process is comprised of four distinct stages:

  1. Reconsideration: This is a thorough reevaluation of your claim by an individual who was not involved in the initial decision. They will scrutinize all the original data as well as any additional evidence you submit.

  2. Hearing by an administrative law judge: Should you be dissatisfied with the reconsideration result, you can request a hearing. During this hearing, the judge will interrogate you and any witnesses you may have. You also have the option to bring a disability attorney for representation.

  3. Review by the Appeals Council: If the hearing's decision is not to your satisfaction, you can petition the Appeals Council to review your case. However, they have the right to deny your request if they believe the hearing decision was justified.

  4. Federal Court review: If all previous steps fail or the Appeals Council declines your request, your final recourse is to file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

It's crucial to remember that you must request a reconsideration within 60 days of receiving the decision notice. Continually updating your medical records throughout the appeal process is also essential, as it could significantly influence the success of your case.

The appeal process may seem daunting, but it's important to remember that many denials are reversed, especially during hearings before administrative law judges. Engaging the services of a disability advocate or attorney can be beneficial in navigating this complex process.

Helpful Resources for Understanding SSDI Benefits

The intricacies of SSDI benefits can be daunting. However, there are numerous resources available that can simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity. Here are some resources that can assist you:

  • Social Security Administration: The SSA's official website is a treasure trove of information about SSDI. It provides comprehensive details on topics like eligibility requirements, application procedures, benefit computations, work incentives, and the appeal process. Visit www.ssa.gov for more details.

  • Disability Benefits Center: This organization offers a wealth of easy-to-understand resources about SSDI and assists individuals in applying for benefits.

  • State Disability Insurance Resources: Several states, including California, have agencies committed to assisting residents in understanding and applying for SSDI. These agencies offer localized advice and resources.

  • Legal Aid: Numerous organizations offer free or low-cost legal consultations for individuals applying for SSDI. Having an attorney can significantly enhance the chances of a successful claim.

  • Disability Advocacy Groups: Organizations like the National Organization for Social Security Claimants' Representatives can connect SSDI applicants with experienced attorneys and advocates.

Leveraging these resources can help unravel the complexities of applying for SSDI benefits and provide critical guidance and support throughout the process. Remember, seeking assistance is always beneficial and can greatly improve your chances of a successful application.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.  Can I work while receiving SSDI benefits?

Yes, you can work while receiving SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows beneficiaries to work under specific guidelines, primarily through the Trial Work Period (TWP) and Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE).

2. What is the Trial Work Period (TWP)?

The TWP allows SSDI beneficiaries to test their ability to work for nine months within a 60-month period without losing benefits. The months do not need to be consecutive. Beneficiaries will continue to receive full benefits during this period, regardless of their earnings, provided they report their work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.

3. How much can I earn during the TWP?

In 2021, any month where you earn more than $940 is considered a month of the TWP. However, this threshold can change yearly, so always check the current amount from the SSA.

4. What happens after the Trial Work Period ends?

After the TWP concludes, the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins. This lasts 36 months. During the EPE, you can still receive benefits in months where your earnings fall below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold.

5. What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

SGA is a threshold set by the SSA, indicating the level of work activity and earnings. If your earnings exceed the SGA limit after the EPE grace period, your SSDI benefits may cease. The exact amount changes yearly and differs for non-blind and blind individuals.

Access Vital Resources Through Disability Help

Being able to stand on your own two feet financially and feeling good about working can really make a difference. The SSA gets this and has set up flexible arrangements to let folks try working without instantly losing their benefits. But, heads up – the rules can be a bit tricky. However, the rules are intricate and require thorough understanding.

Now that we’ve established that you can work while on SSDI, it’s also crucial to know the work hours you’re permitted. In Disability Help’s in-depth guide, learn how many hours you can work while on disability benefits. Stay informed!

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Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
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