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Can I work part-time?

Every day on our forum our disability claimants ask the question, “Can I work part-time and get SSDI benefits?” This question is a bit confusing

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because it is not always clear if they mean can they apply for SSDI if they are working part-time or if they receive SSDI how much part-time work can they do without jeopardizing their benefits. This blog will address both of these scenarios in two different sections.

Working while applying for SSDI benefits

If you are applying for SSDI benefits whether or not you can work part-time will depend on whether you are performing what the SSA calls “substantial gainful activity.” The SSA does have a dollar amount that they will consider “gainful” and in 2012 this amount for non-blind individuals is $1,010 and for statutorily blind individuals it is $1,690. If you are able to generate this amount of income the SSA will not consider you disabled and will automatically deny your SSDI claim, regardless of the severity of your mental or physical health condition.

Now, what if you are working but you are not generating that type of income or maybe you are attending school or volunteering? There is another catch. Work does not have to be “gainful” to be work; it can also simply be “substantial.” What the SSA considers substantial seems to be a bit more nebulous. Estimates vary from 15 to 25 hours per week, but the bottom line is if you are working to much, even if your work is not generating a profit, it could be considered “substantial” and you could be automatically denied SSDI benefits.

Working while receiving SSDI benefits

If a claimant asks if they can get SSDI while they work part-time they frequently are already getting SSDI or they are going to get it and wonder how work will affect their monthly on-going SSDI benefits. So let’s talk about how work can affect your monthly SSDI payments.

Whether you are attempting to return to full-time work or you want to work part-time and get SSDI, it is important to first talk to the SSA and make sure you understand the ticket to work program.

The ticket to work program will allow you to work, but if you earn at least $720 (gross earnings) or you are self-employed and you put in a minimum of 80 hours that month working in your own business you will trigger a “trial work month.” The trial work period is limited to nine months within a rolling 60-month period.  Claimants will still get a monthly SSDI disability check from the SSA during the trial work period, but they must report their work to the SSA and continue to suffer from a disabling condition.

Now, here is when it gets tricky. If you work and use up your trial work period you have an additional 36 months of work eligibility, as long as your earnings are not “substantial.” That is defined as income over $1,010 for the non-blind or $1,680 if you are blind.

Claimants who start having substantial earnings or who pass the extended 36 month period will have their SSDI benefits terminated. An expedited reinstatement is possible, however, if you reapply within 60 months and your condition remains the same or gets worse and you find that you are not able to work.

So, in conclusion, claimants may work VERY part-time when they are applying for SSDI, but honestly in most cases the SSA will decide that they can work just a little more and will deny their claim. Claimants can also work very part-time when they are receiving SSDI but failure to understand the ticket to work program may trigger a trial work period and claimants could ultimately lose their SSDI benefits.

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