Social Security Disability/ Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Working While Disabled
- Working while disabled:
If you are receiving disability benefits, Social Security’s work incentives and Ticket to Work programs can help you if you are interested in working.
Special rules make it possible for people receiving Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive monthly payments. If you cannot continue working because of your medical condition, your benefits can start again – you may not have to file a new application.
Work incentives include:
- Continued cash benefits for a time while you work;
- Continued Medicare or Medicaid while you work; and
- Help with education, training and rehabilitation to start a new line of work.
The rules are different under Social Security and SSI, but regardless of which benefit you are receiving, it is important to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) promptly when you start or stop working, or if any other change occurs that could affect your benefits.
The Ticket to Work program may also help you if you would like to work. You can receive vocational rehabilitation, training, job referrals and other employment support services free of charge. You will not undergo medical reviews while you are using the ticket and making timely progress pursuing your return to work plan. You can get more information on the Ticket to Work Program by calling 1-866-968-7842 toll-free (TTY 1-866-833-2967).
- What are the Social Security work incentives?
- Trial work period – The trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months. During your trial work period, you will receive your full Social Security Benefits regardless of how much you are earning as long as you report your work activity and you continue to have a disabling impairment. As of January, 2015, a trial work month is any month in which your total earnings are $780 or more, or, if you are self-employed, you earn more than $780 (after expenses) or spend more than 80 hours in your own business. The trial work period continues until you have worked nine months within a 60-month period.
- Extended period of eligibility – After your trial work period, you have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not “substantial.” As of January, 2015, earnings of $1090 or more ($1,820 if you are blind) are considered substantial. No new application or disability decision is needed for you to receive a Social Security disability benefit during this period.
- Expedited reinstatement – After your benefits stop because your earnings are substantial, you have five years during which you may ask SSA to start your benefits immediately if you find yourself unable to continue working because of your condition. You will not have to file a new disability application and you will not have to wait for your benefits to start while your medical condition is being reviewed to make sure you are still disabled.
- Continuation of Medicare – If your Social Security disability benefits stop because of your earnings, but you are still disabled, your free Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least 93 months after the nine-month trial work period. After that, you can buy Medicare Part A coverage by paying a monthly premium. If you have Medicare Part B coverage, you must continue to pay the premium. If you want to end your Part B coverage, you must request is in writing.
Work expenses related to your disability– If you work, you may have to pay for certain items and services that people without disabilities do not have to pay for. For example, because of your medical condition, you may need to take a taxi to work instead of public transportation. The SSA may be able to deduct the cost of the taxi from your monthly earnings before it can be determined if you are still eligible for benefits.
- How do my earnings affect my Social Security Benefits?
During the trial work period, there are no limits on your earnings. During the 36-month extended period of eligibility, you usually can make no more than $1090 a month or your benefits will stop. But, the work expenses you have as a result of your disability are deducted when your earnings are counted to see if they can help you keep more of your benefits. If you have extra work expenses, your earnings could be substantially higher than $1090 before they affect your benefits. This substantial earnings amount usually increases each year.
SSA deducts work expenses related to your disability from your earnings before determining if you are still eligible for benefits. These expenses may include the cost of any item or service you need to work, even if the item or service is also useful to you in your daily living. Examples include prescription drugs, transportation to and from work (under certain conditions), a personal attendant or job coach, a wheelchair or any specialized work equipment.
- What happens if I lose my job?
If you lose your job during a trial work period, your benefits are not affected. If you lose your job during the 36-month extended period of eligibility, call SSA and your benefits will be reinstated as long as you are disabled.
- Are there special rules for workers who are blind?
If you are blind and work while receiving your Social Security benefits, there are special rules:
- You can earn up to $1,820 a month as of 2015 before your earnings may affect your benefits.
- If you earn too much to receive disability benefits, you are still eligible for a disability “freeze.” This means the SSA will not count those years in which you had little or no earnings, because of your disability, in figuring your future benefits.
This can help you because your benefits are based on your highest earnings over your work life.
- What are the SSI work incentives?
- Continuation of SSI – SSI payments are made to people who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled and have little income or resources. If you are disabled and work despite your disability, you may continue to receive payments until your earnings, added with any other income, exceed the SSI income limits. This limit is different in every state. Even if your SSI payments stop, your Medicaid coverage usually will continue if your earnings are less than your state level.
- Expedited reinstatement – If SSA stopped your payments because of your earnings and you become unable to work again because of your medical condition, you may ask SSA to start your payments again. You will not have to file a new disability application if you make this request within five years after the month your benefits stopped.
- Work expenses related to your disability - If you work, you may have to pay for certain items and services that people without disabilities do not have to pay for. For example, because of your medical condition, you may need to take a taxi to work instead of public transportation. The SSA may be able to deduct the cost of the taxi from your monthly earnings before it can be determined if you are still eligible for benefits.
- Plan to achieve self-support – If SSA approves your plan for a work goal that will reduce your dependence on SSI or help you leave the SSI rolls, any money you use for this purpose will not be counted when SSA figures out how your current income and resources affect your payment amount.
- Students with disabilities – As of January, 2015, SSA does not count up to $1,780 of your earnings per month (maximum of $7,180 per year), when your SSI payment amount is computed, if you are under age 22 and go to school or are in a training program on a regular basis.
- How do my earnings affect my SSI payments?
The amount of your SSI payments is based on how much other income you have. When your other income goes up, your SSI payments usually go down. So when you earn more than the SSI limit, your payments will stop for those months. But, your payments will automatically start again for any month your income drops to less than the SSI limits. Contact SSA immediately if your earnings are reduced, or if you stop working.
If your only income besides SSI is the money you make from your job, then SSA does not count the first $85 of your monthly earnings. SSA deducts from your SSI payments 50 cents of every dollar you earn after the $85 deduction.
Example: You work and earn $1,000 in a month. You receive no other income besides your earnings and your SSI.
$915 divided by 2 = $457.50
SSA would deduct $457.50 from your SSI payment.
You may be eligible for a “plan to achieve self-support” which allows you to use money and resources for a specific work goal. These funds do not count when we figure out how your current income and resources affect your benefit amount.
- How long will Medicaid continue?
In general your Medicaid coverage will continue, even after your SSI payments stop, until your income reaches a certain level. That level varies with each state and reflects the cost of health care in your state. However, if your health care costs are higher than this level, you can have more income and keep your Medicaid. In most states, for your Medicaid to continue, you must:
- Need it to work;
- Be unable to afford similar medical coverage without SSI;
- Continue to have a disabling condition; and
- Meet all other SSI eligibility requirements.
If you qualify for Medicaid under these rules, SSA will review your case from time to time to see if you are still disabled or blind and still earn less than Virginia’s allowable level.
- Where can I find more information about working while disabled?
Social Security has a Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program (WIPA) that will help answer questions about Social Security’s work incentives and help you make a decision about working.
Community-based organizations provide information and work incentives planning and assistance to people who are receiving Social Security or SSI disability benefits and who are working or considering work. Their community work incentive coordinators can help you understand how work affects your payments and explain what other federal, state and local supports there are for people with disabilities who want to work.
To locate the WIPA project nearest you, please call 1-866-968-7842 (TTY 1-866-833-2967). You also can find a list with contact information at the SSA website at: www.socialsecurity.gov/work/ServiceProviders/WIPADirectory.html.
- What if I disagree with SSA’s decision?
If you disagree with any decision made by SSA, you have the right to request that your case be reviewed again. If you wish to file an appeal, you must make your request in writing within 60 days from the date you received the decision letter. There are four steps in the appeal process. If you disagree with the decision at any stage, you have 60 days to appeal. The four steps are:
- Request for Reconsideration
- Request for Hearing
- Appeals Council Review
- Judicial Review in U.S. District Court
SSA can accept a late appeal if there is good cause for the late filing. You will have to give a reason why you were late and SSA will have to determine if there was good cause.