Working While on Disability: How to Keep Your Benefits

Working While on Disability: How to Keep Your Benefits

Balancing Work and Disability: How to Keep Your Benefits

Can you work while on disability? The short answer is yes—but with some important conditions. Understanding these rules helps you avoid losing out on your disability benefits while returning to work. Here are the key points:

  • SSI and SSDI: You can work but your benefits may be reduced or stopped if your earnings exceed certain limits.
  • Trial Work Period: Allows you to test your ability to work without losing SSDI benefits.
  • Substantial Gainful Activity: Earnings above set thresholds may impact your benefits.
  • Programs: Ticket to Work and other programs offer support and training for job readiness.

Working while on disability can seem daunting, but knowing the guidelines can make all the difference. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has set up specific programs and rules to make this transition as smooth as possible. From the Trial Work Period to income reporting requirements, each rule aims to encourage beneficiaries to return to work without immediately losing their financial safety net.

I’m Ethan Pease. With years of experience and a proven track record in workers’ compensation law, I’ve guided many clients through understanding their rights and maximizing their benefits. My goal is to help you navigate these complex rules and resources so you can focus on your recovery and future.

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Understanding Disability Benefits

Navigating disability benefits can be tricky. Let’s break down the basics of SSI and SSDI, eligibility, and income limits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a need-based program. It helps people with disabilities and seniors who have low income and limited resources. To qualify for SSI, you must:

  • Be aged, blind, or disabled.
  • Have limited income (both earned and unearned).
  • Have limited resources (like cash, bank accounts, or property).

Each state may have different rules about how much income you can earn and still receive SSI. It’s crucial to check your state’s specific guidelines.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program for people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes. If you become disabled and can’t work, SSDI provides you with monthly payments. To qualify for SSDI, you must:

  • Have a disability that meets Social Security’s definition.
  • Have earned enough work credits through your employment history.

SSDI is not based on your current income or resources, but on your work history and the severity of your disability.

Eligibility

To be eligible for either SSI or SSDI, you must meet specific criteria. For SSI, your financial situation is key. For SSDI, your work history and the nature of your disability are crucial.

Income Limits

Income limits play a significant role in maintaining your benefits while working. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • For SSI, the amount you can earn while still receiving benefits varies by state. Generally, the more you earn, the less your SSI benefit will be.
  • For SSDI, you cannot perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). In 2024, SGA is defined as earning more than $1,550 per month (or $2,590 if you are blind).

Understanding these limits is essential to avoid losing your benefits. Always report changes in your income to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to stay compliant.

Can You Work While on Disability?

Trial Work Period

You can work while on disability without losing your benefits, thanks to the trial work period. This period lets you test your ability to work for at least 9 months without affecting your SSDI payments.

Key Points:

  • Unlimited Income: During these 9 months, you can earn as much as you want. There’s no cap on your earnings.
  • Non-Consecutive Months: These months don’t have to be in a row. They just need to be within a rolling 5-year period.
  • 2024 Earnings Threshold: Any month you earn more than $1,110 before taxes will count as a trial work month.

Example:
Imagine you earn $1,200 in January, $1,000 in February, and $1,300 in March. Only January and March count towards your trial work period because you exceeded the $1,110 threshold in those months.

Substantial Gainful Activity

After you use up your 9-month trial work period, the substantial gainful activity (SGA) rules kick in. SGA is a measure used by the SSA to determine if your work activity is substantial enough to disqualify you from receiving disability benefits.

Key Points:

  • Income Limits: In 2024, earning more than $1,550 per month qualifies as SGA. If you’re blind, the limit is higher at $2,590 per month.
  • Impact on Benefits: If your earnings exceed these limits in any month, you won’t receive a disability payment for that month. However, you can still earn below these limits and keep your benefits.

Example:
Jamie, who is blind, earns $2,600 in April 2024. Since this exceeds the $2,590 limit, she won’t get her disability payment for April. If she earns $2,500 in May, she will receive her disability payment for that month.

Income Reporting

Reporting your income accurately is crucial to maintaining your benefits. You must inform the SSA about any changes in your earnings or work activity.

Steps to Report Income:

  1. Keep Records: Track your monthly earnings and any work-related expenses.
  2. Report Changes Promptly: Notify the SSA as soon as your income changes. This helps avoid overpayments and potential penalties.
  3. Include Details: When reporting, include information about any subsidies or work expenses related to your disability. These can adjust your countable earnings.

Example:
If you spend $200 a month on transportation due to your disability, report this to the SSA. They may allow you to earn an extra $200 above the SGA limit without losing your benefits.

Understanding the trial work period and SGA rules can help you navigate working while on disability without jeopardizing your benefits. Next, we’ll explore programs designed to support you in this journey.

Programs to Support Working While on Disability

The Ticket to Work (TTW) Program is a fantastic initiative by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that helps disability beneficiaries return to work without losing their benefits. It’s designed to provide support and resources to make the transition back to work smoother.

How It Works:

  • Free and Voluntary: The program is completely free for Social Security disability beneficiaries and participation is voluntary.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP): You get a nine-month trial period where you can work and earn as much as you want without affecting your SSDI benefits.
  • Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE): After the trial work period, you have a 36-month extended period where you can still receive benefits for any month your earnings are below the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level.

Benefits:

  • Medicare Continuation: You can keep your Medicare coverage for at least 93 months after your trial work period ends.
  • Expedited Reinstatement: If your disability prevents you from working again, you can quickly get your benefits reinstated without reapplying, for up to five years after your benefits stop.

In addition to TTW, there are other employment support programs designed to help you find and maintain a job while on disability. These programs offer various resources like training, job placement, and financial subsidies.

Training Programs:

  • Job Training: Many programs provide vocational training to help you gain new skills or update existing ones. This can make it easier to find a job that suits your abilities.

Job Placement:

  • Employment Networks (ENs): These are organizations that work with the SSA to provide job placement services. They can help you find jobs that match your skills and accommodate your disability.

Subsidies:

  • Employer Subsidies: Sometimes, employers may provide wage subsidies to employees with disabilities. This extra pay is not counted as earnings, which can help you stay below the SGA limit.

These programs are designed to support you in your journey back to work, ensuring you can maintain your benefits while gaining financial independence.

Managing Your Benefits While Working

When you’re working while on disability, it’s crucial to report your income to the Social Security Administration (SSA). This helps ensure you stay within the guidelines and keep your benefits.

SSA Requirements

You need to inform the SSA if you start or stop working, or if your income changes. This includes:

  • Starting a new job
  • Getting a raise or working extra hours
  • Switching jobs or changing work duties

Changes in Income

You must report any changes in your income promptly. This includes any bonuses, overtime, or other earnings that might affect your benefit amount.

Work Activity

The SSA also wants to know about your work activity. This means you should report:

  • The type of work you’re doing
  • How many hours you’re working
  • Any special accommodations or support you receive at work

By keeping the SSA informed, you help avoid overpayments or interruptions in your benefits.

Work Expenses and Subsidies

When you work while on disability, you can deduct certain work expenses from your earnings, which can help you stay under the income limits.

Disability-Related Expenses

These are called Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). They include costs directly related to your disability that you need to work, such as:

  • Personal care assistance
  • Special equipment
  • Copayments for prescription drugs

For example, if you spend $100 each month on medication needed to work, you can deduct this from your earnings.

Employer Subsidies

Sometimes, employers pay workers with disabilities more than their work is worth. This extra pay is called a wage subsidy. The SSA doesn’t count this extra pay as earnings.

Example:

Jamie earns $1,690 a month but spends $50 on personal care assistance and receives $200 in wage subsidies. The SSA calculates Jamie’s countable earnings by deducting the IRWE and subsidy, helping Jamie stay under the income limit.

Earnings Limit Adjustments

By deducting IRWEs and subsidies, you can adjust your earnings to stay below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. This helps ensure you keep your benefits while working.

Reporting Work Expenses and Subsidies

To take advantage of these deductions, you must report your work expenses and any employer subsidies to the SSA. This involves:

  • Keeping detailed records of your expenses
  • Providing receipts and documentation
  • Notifying the SSA about any employer subsidies

By managing your work expenses and reporting accurately, you can work while on disability and keep your benefits.

Keeping Your Healthcare Coverage

Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid provides essential health coverage, especially if you’re on disability. But can you keep Medicaid while working? The answer is yes, but it depends on your state’s rules and your earnings.

Each state has different income thresholds for Medicaid eligibility. For example, some states allow you to earn more while still keeping your Medicaid benefits. Check your state’s specific earnings limit to know where you stand.

You can also qualify for Medicaid Buy-In programs. These programs let you pay a small premium to keep your Medicaid coverage even if your income goes up. This is a great option if you start earning more but still need Medicaid’s comprehensive coverage.

For more details, visit the Social Security’s Continued Medicaid Eligibility page.

Medicare Coverage

If you receive SSDI, you’re likely also eligible for Medicare. But how does working affect your Medicare coverage?

Medicare Part A covers hospital stays and is usually premium-free if you’ve worked enough quarters. Medicare Part B covers outpatient care, like doctor visits and preventive services, but comes with a monthly premium.

When you go back to work, you can keep your Medicare coverage for at least 93 months after your nine-month Trial Work Period. This means you can work and still get Medicare benefits for over seven years.

Here’s how it works:

  • First 24 months: You get Medicare Part A and Part B without paying any additional premiums.
  • Next 69 months: You can continue to receive Medicare, but you may need to pay Part B premiums.

If you’re worried about losing Medicare, explore the Medicare Savings Programs. These programs can help pay for your Part B premiums and other out-of-pocket costs.

To learn more, check out the Medicare and Disability page.

By understanding Medicaid and Medicare rules, you can keep your healthcare coverage while working and maintaining your disability benefits.

Next, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about working while on disability.

Frequently Asked Questions about Working While on Disability

How much money can you make without it affecting your SSI disability?

The amount of money you can make without affecting your SSI disability varies by state. Generally, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program has strict income limits. In 2024, if you earn over $1,550 a month, you may stop receiving SSDI benefits. However, SSI eligibility can differ based on your state’s rules.

For specific details, check your state’s income thresholds on the Social Security’s Continued Medicaid Eligibility page.

What are the most hours you can work on disability?

When considering self-employment or any form of work while on disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has guidelines. For instance, if you are self-employed, you can work up to 45 hours per month without it generally affecting your benefits.

However, the focus is more on your income rather than the number of hours worked. Ensure you stay within the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limits to maintain your benefits. For 2024, the SGA limit is $1,550 per month ($2,590 if you are blind).

What can cause you to lose your social security disability benefits?

Several factors can lead to the termination of your Social Security disability benefits:

  • Income Exceeds Limits: Earning above the SGA limit ($1,550 per month for non-blind individuals) can result in loss of benefits.

  • Medical Recovery: If a medical review shows significant improvement in your condition, your benefits may be discontinued.

  • Work Recovery: Successfully completing the Trial Work Period and earning above the SGA during the Extended Period of Eligibility can also end your benefits.

For more details on managing your benefits while working, visit the Social Security Administration’s Work Incentives page.

Understanding these rules can help you navigate working while on disability without losing your benefits.

Next, we’ll explore programs that support working while on disability.

Conclusion

Navigating the complexities of working while on disability can be challenging. However, understanding the rules and taking advantage of supportive programs can help you maintain your benefits while exploring work opportunities.

At Visionary Law Group, we understand how crucial it is to balance your health and financial stability. Our team is dedicated to helping you navigate this journey with confidence. Whether you have questions about trial work periods, substantial gainful activity, or need help with income reporting, we are here to assist you every step of the way.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure about your situation, don’t worry. We offer a free case evaluation to help you understand your options and create a plan that works for you. Take the first step towards securing your future by getting a free case evaluation today. Let us help you turn your challenges into opportunities for a brighter future.

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