How much can recipients of Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefit payments earn by working without losing them? Our Social Security lawyers in Michigan have researched the question and have found that some recipients hesitate to look for work because of their uncertainty about the effect on their disability payments. This reluctance is natural, but the Social Security Administration has special rules that continue full monthly benefits while recipients work on jobs. Knowledge of these rules before they seek employment helps them make sure they don’t jeopardize disability payments they need.
The Trial Work Period
This program allows SSDI recipients to work jobs and still receive full monthly benefits. The period covers nine months, consecutive or not, over any 60-month term. During these nine months, workers may earn any amount with no loss of any of their monthly cash benefits. The trial work period encourages disability recipients to return to work when able. A trial work period month is one in which an employee earns more than $780 or a business owner, freelancer, consultant, or self-employed individual works 80 or more hours.
All pretax monthly earnings count toward the $780 threshold, but impairment-related work expenses for service animals, medical supplies, or job coaching sessions are deductible. Program participants should keep receipts for impairment-related expense payments so Social Security can track and compute earnings accurately.
It is essential to inform Social Security of earnings for each month worked while in receipt of benefit payments. Participants should submit copies of pay stubs and impairment-related work expense payments by the 10th of the month following each month worked. Failure to keep Social Security informed in this way may cause termination of benefits.
Those concerned that a trial work period could lead to termination of their benefits when Social Security conducts continuing disability reviews should note that such reviews are generally random. While a disability review during a trial work period or in fact at any other time is always a distinct possibility, a trial work period alone raises no red flag for an investigation. If a review occurs, Social Security looks at medical records, not trial work progress, for proof of continued disability.
After the nine-month trial work period comes the period of extended eligibility, 36 months during which full benefits continue every month the recipient remains disabled with earnings of no more than substantial gainful activity, which in 2015 is $1,090 for the sighted and $1,820 for the blind.
Recipients who earn more than substantial gainful activity amounts in any month of extended eligibility lose the entire benefit for that month. They go over a “cash cliff,” which alerts Social Security to investigate whether their disabilities have ceased. If so, then Social Security pays full benefits for three more months before terminating them.
If work stops or earnings fall below the level of substantial gainful activity during extended eligibility, Social Security restarts the benefits with no need for a new application. It’s so easy to reinstate benefits if the trial work attempt fails that Social Security calls extended eligibility the “reentitlement period.”
When the 36-month reentitlement period ends, benefits continue as long as the recipient remains medically disabled and does not earn more than the substantial gainful activity amount. Earnings over substantial gainful activity for even a single month after the 36-month period of reentitlement terminate benefits. However, a medical condition that again prevents work may make the terminated recipient eligible for expedited reinstatement within five years after the extended period of eligibility.
Our Social Security lawyers in Michigan can cite an example that may clarify how the trial work and extended eligibility periods function:
- Andy began receiving SSDI benefits in 2010. In January 2013, he began part-time work and earned $500 that month. His hours increased in the following month, when his earnings totaled $800. His February 2013 earnings exceeded the $750 trial work period threshold, so that month was the first in the trial work period. He earned over $750 in March, in May, and from July through December 2013. These months consumed his trial work period. While working and earning over $750, Andy received full disability benefits throughout 2013.
- Andy began his 36-month extended eligibility period in January 2014. He earned $900 in January and in February and still received full disability payments because his earnings were less than the $1,070 substantial gainful activity threshold. However, in March 2014 Andy earned $1,450, exceeded the threshold, and his disability terminated except for his entitlement to benefits for the three-month grace period. He received no benefits after May 2014. He continued to earn a substantial gainful activity income until November 2014, when he again became unable to work and again entitled to benefits so long as his earnings do not exceed substantial gainful activity amounts.
- After Andy’s extended eligibility expires in December 2016, he will receive his regular disability payments as long as he does not earn more than substantial gainful activity. However, if Andy starts work and earns such income even if only once after the end of the reinstatement period, he loses his benefits and will have to reapply for them.
Medicare Coverage in the Trial Work and Extended Eligibility Periods
Medicare coverage accompanies disability benefits from two years after SSDI entitlement and during the trial work and extended eligibility periods. At the end of the trial work period, Medicare coverage remains for 93 months even if the insured works and earns more than substantial gainful activity during this time. Those who remain entitled to SSDI benefits after extended eligibility ends retain Medicare coverage.
The Ticket to Work Program
SSDI recipients who want to work but cannot perform any of their previous jobs may qualify for vocational rehabilitation or technical training through the Social Security Ticket to Work program. Participants evaluated at vocational rehabilitation offices develop plans to resume employment in the workforce. Social Security does not conduct disability reviews of SSDI recipients who participate in the Ticket to Work program.
Rules for the Self-Employed
For the self-employed, income alone is not necessarily a reliable measure of how much income they derive from work. To measure whether the self-employed earn too much for SSDI eligibility, Social Security has complex rules that consider income, the number of workers their businesses employ, and the number of hours worked. These rules remain in force after the end of the trial work period.
Consult Social Security Lawyers in Michigan
No SSDI benefit claimant should try to navigate the intricacies and complexities of the Social Security process alone without the advice and advocacy of a skillful, experienced disability lawyer. Such assistance is in fact absolutely necessary in most cases for best results. The lawyer identifies and analyzes what must be proven to win benefits, decides how best to prove it, and prepares the necessary proof. Call 888-282-0719 today to schedule a free consultation.