How much can I work when I receive Social Security disability benefits?
Will I lose my health coverage if I go to work?
What if I go to work and then my disability gets worse?
Consumers, families, advocates and professionals:
Do you have questions about Social Security’s work incentives and safety nets?
We open our toll-free telephone line on Mondays from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. and on Thursdays from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. to anyone. Call 1-855-384-2844.
You will speak with Shannon Smiles, a Certified Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC).
This is a free, confidential service to help you make informed choices about going to work.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. This provides cash benefits and Medicare coverage to eligible disabled or blind individuals who have worked and paid into the Social Security trust fund. These contributions are the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) social security tax paid on a worker’s own earnings or those of his/her spouse or parents.
Some disability beneficiaries want to go to work. However, they worry about the effect of earnings on their cash and health benefits. For this reason, SSA offers work incentives and safety nets that let beneficiaries get used to working without worrying about how earnings will affect their disability benefits.
One important term to understand is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Social Security uses this term to decide if you are doing productive work. They measure if a person is able to perform SGA by looking at how much you earn. In 2015, the SGA level is $1090. If you earn more than that amount, SSA may decide that you have the ability to work.
However, before your benefits are affected by earnings, Social Security provides beneficiaries with certain work incentives and safety nets.
These are the work incentives offered by SSA:
The Trial Work Period (TWP) allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months. During your TWP, you will receive your full disability cash and health benefits regardless of how much you earn as long as you continue to have a disabling impairment. SSA will count a month of earnings as a TWP if you earn more than $780 a month (in year 2015).
The nine months do not need to be consecutive. Your TWP will last until you have earned over the TWP amount for nine months within a rolling 60-month period.
The Grace Period is the first three months following your TWP in which you earn over SGA. During your Grace Period you will continue to receive your check. Your Grace Period can occur either during your EPE or sometime after you have completed your EPE. (See EPE below). This will depend on when you earn over SGA for the first time following your TWP.
Once you complete Phase 1 (TWP) you will begin Phase 2, the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). The EPE starts the month after your TWP ends. It lasts for 36 consecutive months. During this time, SSA will look to see if you have countable earnings that are above $1090 (the SGA level for the year 2015.) If so, you will not receive a disability check for that month.
In any month, if your countable earnings drop below $1090, you can contact SSA and ask them to reinstate your cash benefits for that month, without the need for a new application. You must continue to have a disabling impairment in addition to having earnings below the SGA level for that month.
The EPE is a very powerful work incentive that is designed to give beneficiaries the confidence to increase their earnings potential.
Phase 3 starts the month after the EPE ends. You will continue to receive your SSDI if your countable earnings are below SGA. If countable earnings continue to be above SGA after the EPE ends, eligibility for your SSDI benefits will terminate.
If the SSDI benefit terminates due to working, but then within 60 months from termination your countable earnings go below SGA (and you can't maintain SGA level work due to your disability) you can request Expedited Reinstatement of benefits (EXR). If you apply for EXR, you will receive up to six months of provisional benefits while SSA conducts a medical continuing disability review to see if you meet the eligibility criteria to be reinstated.
Even if SSA decides that your medical condition has improved, you will not have to pay back these temporary benefit checks.
There are also ways that you can reduce the amount of earnings that SSA counts toward SGA. These additional work incentives include Impairment Related Work Expenses and Subsidy and Special Conditions. SSA or a Certified Work Incentives Coordinator can explain these in more details and help you find out if they apply to your situation.