Can I work without it affecting my Social Security Disability or SSI?

If you have been approved to receive disability benefits under the Social Security Disability or SSI disability program, you need to be very careful about any work activity you may engage in. Work activity can potentially trigger a review of your case. This is even more so for claimants who have been approved for disability on the basis of a mental impairment.

Having said that, the social security administration does have provisions for work activity even for individuals who have been found to meet the SSA definition of disability. In this article, we'll define certain key concepts that apply to work activity and social security.

1. Unsuccessful work attempt - Many individuals attempt to go back into the workforce at some point after being awarded disability benefits. In some cases, this is because the person has found it necessary to supplement their disability benefits in order to meet their living expenses. In other cases, it is because the person has a genuine desire to return to work or re-enter their profession for the purpose of advancement.

Due to their condition, or various conditions, of course, many individuals who attempt to work find that they cannot sustain their work activity. As a recognition of this reality, social security considers a UWA, or unsuccessful work attempt, as an attempt at working that does not last 90 days or longer. In other words, if you receive disability and re-enter the workforce, but do not make it past 90 days on the job, the attempt will not count against you.

2. SGA - SGA stands for substantial gainful activity. SGA is a gross monthly earnings amount. If a claimant works and their earnings do not match or exceed this amount, then it will not affect their case. If, however, they work and earn at least this amount, it may negatively affect their case depending on whether or not they have exhausted their trial work months. To see the current SGA limit: Substantial gainful activity limit.

3. Trial Work Months - Individuals who are approved to receive disability benefits are given the opportunity to try working again without automatically sacrificing their disability benefits. As previously mentioned, attempts to work that do not last 90 days may be classified as unsuccessful.

Social security also allows claimant a total of nine trial work months in which their earnings may match or exceed the limits for SGA work activity. If an individual works and earns at least the SGA earnings limit for nine months within a 36 month rolling period (in other words, these nine months do not have to be consecutive), then in the 10th month of earning at least the SGA income limit, their disability benefits will be stopped.

4. Overpayments - Overpayments generally occur as a result of work activity, often work activity that is not reported. Overpayments can result in benefits being stopped and huge debts to the social security administration. In certain cases, overpayments can be waived if the social security office finds that the individual is not at fault. If you are assessed with an overpayment, you may wish to request a continuation of benefits while you appeal the assessment.

However, if you are found to owe the original overpayment you will also owe any additional money that you received while you tried to fight the overpayment assessment. Overpayment situations can usually be avoided by reporting work activity as soon as possible.

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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