SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
Social Security Disability and SSI Questions and Answers
What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
If I am determined disabled, how far back will Social Security pay benefits?
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition?
What Can I Do to Improve My Chances of Winning Disability Benefits
Common Mistakes after Receiving a Denial of Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits
How to File for Disability - Tips for Filing
If You Get Approved For SSDI Will You Also Get Medicare?
How much does a Social Security disability attorney get paid?
Social Security Disability SSI Criteria and the Evaluation Process
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability SSI and Fibromyalgia
Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease
Can I Qualify For Disability and Receive Benefits based on Depression?
More questions about SSD and SSI
What Disabilities Qualify for SSI and Social Security Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability Status
Social Security Disability Tips — how a claim gets worked on
Social Security Disability, SSI Disability - Terms, Definitions, Concepts
Working and Disability - Are You Allowed to Work While Receiving Social Security Disability or SSI?
How to prove you are disabled
and win disability benefits
Yes, though some individuals will often take the position that you cannot work while pursuing a claim, the truth is that you are allowed to work while receiving social security disability or SSI, and you are allowed to work while applying for benefits.
In the case of a pending claim, i.e. a disability application, you can do this as long as your earnings do not exceed the earnings threshold for the SGA limit. SGA stands for substantial gainful activity and it corresponds to a specific dollar amount that you cannot exceed. If your gross monthly earnings exceed this amount, you claim will be denied for SGA because it is the social security administration's position that if you can make this amount you are not functionally limited enough to be considered disabled (to see the current SGA amount: the social security disability and SSI earnings limit).
If you are already receiving title 2 social security disability benefits, SGA-level earnings are still an issue; however, SSA (the social security administration) does offer benefit recipients the opportunity to try working without necessarily giving up their benefits altogether.
Social Security has devised a trial work system that assumes that even though a person who is on disability may try to go back to working, this does not necessarily mean that they will be successful. In fact, they may attempt going back to a job only to find that their condition makes it impossible for them to stay engaged in work activity for very long.
The trial work system used by SSA is set up in this way: If a person who is receiving social security disability benefits goes back to work, they may earn as much as they like, even going over the SGA limit that is in effect for the given year, for nine full months. For those nine trial work months, there is no limit to how much the recipient can earn. However, if the individual is exceeding the earnings limit (SGA) in the tenth month, their benefits will be stopped.
What if you go back to work for a number of months but do not earn over the SGA limit in all of those months? For a month to count as a trial work month, your earnings must be up to the SGA limit. If your earnings are not at least as much as SGA, the month will not count.
The nine trial work months do not have to be consecutive. Also, the total number of trial work months that are accumulated can occur anytime in a rolling 36 month period. All of this means that benefit recipients have a fair amount of flexibility to try various attempts at returning to work.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when receiving social security disability benefits and attempting work activity is to keep the local social security office updated on any work that is engaged in. By informing the local office of work activity, they can track your use of trial work months. This can also help you to avoid going into a situation where you continue to receive benefits that you are not eligible for (for example, if you have used all your trial work months).
If you receive benefits for which you are not monetarily eligible, you will incur an overpayment that will need to be addressed by either seeking a waiver (under the assertion that you cannot repay the overpayment or that the overpayment was not your fault), or by working out a payment arrangement that typically involves having a portion of your monthly disability benefit deducted to repay the debt.
If you are already receiving title 16 SSI disability benefits, there is no trial work period. Your eligibility for SSI will ultimately be subject to the SGA limit on how much you earn; however, what you receive in SSI monthly benefits may also be reduced by a certain amount based on how much you are earning. Above a certain amount of earnings (which may change from year to year), SSA may deduct one dollar of SSI monthly benefits for every two dollars that are earned. Again, as with SSD, it is important to report work activity to avoid an overpayment and/or a cessation of monthly benefits.
Return to: SSDRC, or the Social Security Disability Questions page