Working While on
Social Security Disability
If you have not recovered from your disability, Social Security has several programs that can support your return to work. In some circumstances you can be working while on Social Security Disability and continue to receive full disability benefits. However, to avoid overpayments that you will have to repay, it is important to report to Social Security as soon you start work. It can also be helpful to talk to a Social Security representative about your work plans before you actually begin working, so that you can take advantage of Social Security’s return-to-work programs.
Ticket to Work
At any point in time, you may be eligible for Social Security’s free and voluntary “Ticket to Work.” This program connects you with a network of vocational specialists in state agencies and private companies. Some examples of services that are available through the Ticket to Work program are return-to-work planning, job search assistance, and other support services that you may need to obtain and keep a job. If you are using Ticket to Work, in some circumstances, your claim will not be reviewed for medical recovery.
Other Social Security Disability Work Incentive Programs
In addition to the Ticket to Work, Social Security’s work-support programs include a Trial Work Period, an Extended Period of Eligibility, and Expedited Reinstatement. There are also provisions for continuation of Medicare health insurance.
Working on Social Security Disability When Earnings Aren’t Substantial
A key concept in Social Security’s definition of disability and in its work incentive programs is “substantial gainful activity,” which is called SGA for short. Social Security generally defines substantial earnings as a certain dollar amount. In 2016, generally $1,130.00 earnings per month is substantial for non-blind workers and $1,820.00 is substantial work for the blind. These amounts refer to your gross earnings if you are an employee and your net profit if you are self-employed. However, Social Security looks at many factors when determining whether your work, especially self-employment, is substantial gainful activity. Our article “What Is Disability According to Social Security Laws?” offers additional discussion about how Social Security decides whether earnings are substantial.
In general, regardless of which work programs you participate in, if your work never reaches the level of substantial gainful activity, you can work and receive Social Security Disability indefinitely, as long as you do not recover medically. Additionally, your eligibility to Medicare health insurance will continue while you work. Even if you think that your work is not substantial, it is important to report your work activity to Social Security as soon as you start working and whenever you have changes in hours, pay, or duties. For an explanation of Medicare, see our article “If I am approved for Social Security Disability, will I get Medicare and Medicaid health insurance?”
Trial Work Periods and Continuing Eligibility
Whether or not you participate in the Ticket to Work program, your work activity will be evaluated through three work-incentive programs. The first that comes into play is the Trial Work Period. You are eligible for a Trial Work Period if you do not engage in substantial gainful activity during your first twelve months of disability. A Trial Work Period consists of nine months, not necessarily in a row, during which you earn at or above the Trial Work Period earnings level, which in 2016 is $810.00 per month. Note that the monthly amount that defines a Trial Work Period month, $810.00, is less than the dollar guidelines for the substantial gainful activity. During your Trial Work Period, you will receive full disability benefits and continuation of Medicare, as long as you pay any required Medicare premiums.
Work in the Extended Period of Eligibility
When your Trial Work Period ends, you enter into another work incentive program, which is a thirty-six-month Extended Period of Eligibility. The extended period begins the month after the end of the Trial Work Period, whether or not you are working at that time. During the Extended Period of Eligibility, you will be paid for months in which you do not perform substantial gainful activity. On the other hand, your benefits will be suspended for any month that your work is SGA. The only exception is that you will be paid benefits for your first month of SGA in the Extended Period, plus the two following months. During the full thirty-six months, your entitlement to Part A Medicare will continue whether or not you are receiving a benefit check. Part B and Part D Medicare will also continue, if the premiums are paid.
Disability Benefits and Medicare After the Extended Period of Eligibility
At the end of the thirty–six-month Extended Period of Eligibility, if you are engaging in substantial gainful activity, your Social Security benefits will stop. However, if you are not working or your work is not SGA, your benefits will continue until the first month you perform SGA, at which time, your disability benefits will be terminated. If your cash benefits end and you continue to work and you have not recovered medically, your Medicare insurance will continue for an additional fifty-seven months.
Requirements for Expedited Reinstatement
The next work incentive we’ll look at is Social Security’s Expedited Reinstatement. This procedure is available to people whose benefits were terminated at the end of their Extended Period of Disability because they were working and performing substantial gainful activity. If, within five years of when your benefits ended, you again stop performing substantial gainful activity because of the same condition that originally disabled you, you may be eligible for reinstatement of benefits without a new application. If you are eligible for this Expedited Reinstatement, you will not have an unpaid five-month waiting period. Additionally, you will receive six months of temporary payments while the Social Security Administration determines whether you are eligible for reinstatement.
Support for Working on Social Security Disability
As you can see, Social Security offers a lot of support for your return to work. Your local Social Security office can provide you with more information about your benefits as related to your particular work desires and situation. Also, Social Security’s “Red Book” has detailed information about its return-to-work programs and about working on Social Security Disability. The “Red Book” can be downloaded from Social Security’s website, www.social security.gov, or you can order a printed copy from the Social Security Administration.