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Working and Disability Benefits…What’s the Real Deal?



Individuals who receive governmental benefits due to an inability to work are frequently concerned they will lose those benefits upon returning to work. Many wish to work, but worry that they will lose much needed benefits if they are not able to maintain full time employment. 


For individuals who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers work incentive programs, such as the Ticket to Work Program, to provide those individuals with the opportunity to test out working without fear of losing healthcare or financial benefits immediately.  If enrolled, there are special rules that make it possible for individuals to receive benefits and work at the same time. Work incentives while enrolled in these programs include continued cash benefits for a time while the individual works, continued Medicare or Medicaid while working, and help with vocational rehabilitation, career counseling, training, job placement and continuing support services.


SSA provides benefits to adults that cannot participate in what is called “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) due to a disability. SSA defines SGA as work that involves significant and productive duties, and typically, a person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is considered to be engaging in SGA. The monthly SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2018 is $1970. For non-blind individuals, the monthly SGA amount for 2018 is $1180. 


SSDI recipients are permitted to test their ability to work while receiving benefits regardless of the SGA amount for a nine-month period. For 2018, the SSA considers any month where a person has a monthly income of more than $850 a trial work month. Once the nine months are completed, for a period of 36 months, the individual can continue to receive benefits if his or her earnings fall under the SGA level. After the trial work period, if the individual requires benefits to be reinstated due to disability, and it is in five years of the trial work period, SSA does not require the filing of a new application for benefits.


For SSI recipients, an individual may work and continue to receive SSI benefits as long as the individual’s wages and other resources do not exceed the SSA’s income limit for SSI; however, the individual’s monthly benefit amount will be reduced in proportion to their income.


Individuals should be cautious with regard to obtaining employment and should consult with a benefits advocacy attorney before returning to work.  The attorneys at Fitzgerald & Sadove PLLC are happy to assist you with navigating the complex government benefits process. For more information regarding benefits, visit SSA.GOV.