The Delicate Balance Of Working And Keeping SSDI Benefits
Disability is not a circumstance that many people plan for in advance, or even think about as a possibility. If asked, most people would envision working until at least retirement age, but this imagined future may be completely derailed once the onset of a disability occurs. Most individuals unable to work due to disability attempt to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, but approval does not automatically mean any future work is out of the question. A basic requirement for SSDI benefit approval is the recipient’s long-term inability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). This rule does not completely preclude a person from working, but it does mean if a person can work more than a minimal amount, he/she will not be eligible for benefits. Certainly, during the early days following the onset of a disability and the consequent stoppage of work, a good percentage are unable to do any work. At some point, though, those that can will likely attempt to reenter the workforce, or at least supplement their income with part-time employment. Understanding how the Social Security Administration (SSA) views employment of any kind for purposes of SSDI benefits is essential information for both applicants and recipients. A discussion on this issue will follow below.
SSDI benefits are designed to go to individuals with disabilities unable to sustain more than insignificant amounts of work, and to support this intent, the SSA looks at the earnings of an applicant or recipient to see if he/she is working beyond the maximum allowable level. This threshold is called substantial gainful activity, or SGA, and limits the amount a person can earn and still qualify for benefits at $1,170 per month for 2017. Earning over this amount would disqualify an applicant, and could cause a current recipient to lose benefits, if the trial work period has passed. Further, the SSA assesses a person’s SGA based on more than just mere dollars earned. Any work performed that has a value and is usually compensated, including volunteer positions, even if no money is made, counts toward this limit. Specifically, the SSA will look at the amount of physical and mental effort a job requires to determine if this information indicates the ability to engage in regular employment, even if the current job is part-time or pays less than earnings before the onset of a disability. Consequently, striking the balance needed to earn a minimal level of financial support without losing disability benefits can be tricky, and make it difficult to know if engaging in any sort of work is a good idea.
Trial Work Period
SSDI recipients are offered a trial work period through the SSA to attempt a return to work without the worry of losing benefits due to exceeding the SGA monthly limit. Working during the trial work period, which applies to any nine months worked within a 60-month window (can be non-consecutive) in which a recipient earns more than $840, allows SSDI recipients to maintain a status of disabled, regardless of monthly earnings. Any month with earnings above $840 counts toward the trial work period, and once the nine months are expended, any month with earnings above $840 would terminate benefits. However, those able to return to work do retain the ability to have disability determined on a month-by-month basis for another 36 months. Thus, any month with earnings below the SGA are entitled to full SSDI benefits for that particular month during the extended eligibility period. Further, former recipients that lost benefits due to a return to work can file for an expedited reinstatement at any time during the five-year period after benefits were canceled if their earnings fall below the SGA.
Trying to navigate the complicated laws and rules that determine when and how SSDI applications are evaluated is daunting for anyone, and those facing a disability are more disadvantaged because the attention their condition requires. An experienced disability insurance attorney can take this burden off your shoulders, and give you a fair chance at being approved for benefits. Farrell Disability Law understands your challenges, and will fight to get you the money you deserve. Contact the Jacksonville office for a free consultation.