Are you allowed to work at all if you get Social Security Disability or SSI?

Yes, you are allowed to work if you receive Social Security Disability or receive SSI disability; but both SSI and Social Security Disability have rules that govern the treatment of work activity.

If you receive Social Security Disability, you are allowed to work. However, your monthly earnings may cause your disability benefits to be suspended or even terminated. Social Security is based upon an inability to perform substantial gainful work activity because of your disabling condition; because of this Social Security closely monitors work activity.

If you are receiving Social Security Disability, you should be especially careful about substantial work activity during the first twelve months of your disability entitlement. Work activity at this point could cause your disability case to be reopened to a denial of disability benefits. After the first year of entitlement, work activity can still affect your eligibility for monthly disability benefits.

Working while receiving disability benefits

Social Security Disability allows a nine month trial work period during a sixty month period in which your earnings can be any amount. While you are allowed to earn as much as you want during a trial work month, Social Security has a trial work month earnings amount. The trial work earnings amount is less than the limit for monthly earnings (if you are working and appyling for, or even receiving, disability benefits), so even if you have not gone over the SGA monthly earnings amount you may have used a trial work month.

Trial work months

Keep in mind that your nine trial work months do not have to be consecutive; they can occur any time during your a sixty month period. You are allowed only one trial work period. If you are performing substantial work activity on the tenth month, your disability benefits will be suspended and your thirty-six month extended period of eligibility will begin. This gives you thirty-six months in which your disability benefit can be reinstated any time your earnings are below the SGA level or you lose your job.

The EPE is a set amount of time, meaning that if you perform SGA-level work activity after the last month of the EPE, your disability benefits will be terminated. If your disability benefits are terminated you will have to file for an expedited reinstatement or a new disability claim.

If you are entitled to SSI disability, work activity is treated differently. Since SSI is a need based disability program, any amount of earnings could affect the amount of your monthly disability benefit or your eligibility for SSI disability benefits. If your SSI disability benefits remain suspended for a year or more due to work or any other reason, your SSI disability will be terminated. Once they are terminated, you have to file a new SSI disability claim if you want to pursue disability benefits again.

Social Security and SSI disability beneficiaries often create large overpayments because they do not report their work activity timely. It is advisable to report all work activity no matter how small to Social Security so that an overpayment you will have to repay can be prevented.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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