Under both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), disability beneficiaries may return to some form of work through programs designed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Those receiving SSDI benefits have the right to tentatively reenter the workforce without impacting their monthly benefit through SSA’s Trial Work Period (TWP). This 9 (non-consecutive) month program allows a beneficiary of SSDI to return to work and receive both income and monthly SSDI benefits. Following a Trial Work Period beneficiaries can continue to work for 36-months under an Extend Period of Eligibility. This period, however, does have an income cap each month, and if the beneficiary exceeds this cap than their benefit will be revoked for that month.
SSI beneficiaries may also reenter the workforce, but those who do should be cautious about the impact that will have on their monthly benefits. Those who work while receiving SSI do not have a Trial Work Period and will see an immediate decline in benefits while working.
Trial Work Period
During this period a beneficiary will continue to receive their full monthly benefit regardless of how high their earnings are. This allows a SSDI recipient to test their ability to work without having to worry that it will impact their benefits. The Trial Work Period is counted as any 9-months where beneficiary earns $850 or more. If a beneficiary earns under this amount then SSA does not count the month as a Trial Work Period service month. This means that the 9-month period does not have to be consecutive. The beneficiary must inform the Social Security Administration of their earnings each month that they work so that SSA can accurately assess which months count as a Trial Work Period service month. Failure to inform SSA could lead to a revocation of benefits or SSA counting a month as a service month even when the beneficiary earns under $850.
Extended Period of Eligibility
This is a 36-month period following the Trial Work Period where SSDI recipients will continue to receive full benefits every month as long as the recipient earnings are under the “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) threshold. In 2019, SGA is $1,220 a month, but each year this number is subject to adjustment. SSA determines if a beneficiary is eligible for a benefit check on a month-to-month basis during this period. If a recipient earns above the SGA amount in a given month than they will lose that month’s entire benefit. After the 36th month, when the period is over, those who earn over the SGA threshold will have their SSDI benefits canceled entirely.
Those who lose their SSDI benefits by earning over the SGA threshold after the Extended Period of Eligibility have a five-year period where SSDI benefits may be reinstated. If working past the Extended Period of Eligibility results in a beneficiary losing their benefits, but then their monthly income slips below the SGA threshold, the beneficiary may file an application for expedited reinstatement. This allows SSA to reevaluate a former beneficiary’s eligibility without forcing them to submit an entirely new application. Once an application for expedited reinstatement is filed, SSA will pay the former beneficiary full benefits for six months while the application is processed. In order to deny an application of this nature, SSA must demonstrate that the beneficiary has medically improved enough to not qualify for disability since the last time they received benefits. In contrast, if this were a new application, the applicant, not SSA, would have to prove that they are medically disabled. This process allows those who have worked, but lost their benefits an opportunity to return to SSDI without the repercussions of having to apply from scratch.
Working While on SSI
As stated before, SSI does not have a Trial Work Period. Instead those who seek employment while receiving monthly SSI benefits will be subject to adjustments in the pay scale for benefits. A beneficiary will be able to receive some benefit as long as they make under SSA’s income limit for SSI. In 2018, that limit is $750 dollars. If wages in 2018 exceed $750, an SSI beneficiary would receive no SSI benefits. SSA does not count the first $85 dollars a person earns when calculating the benefit reduction. However, after a beneficiary earns $85 in a month, for every additional dollar earned, SSA deducts 50 cents from the monthly benefit.
For example, consider a beneficiary who earns exactly $500 in a month
This means that this person’s SSI benefits would be reduced by $207.50 a month. Those receiving SSI benefits should keep this in mind when attempting to return to the workforce.