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Does work make me not disabled?

One of our most common topics on our disability forum is work and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Many disability applicants want to know if they work and receive SSDI and if so how much can they work. Recently, we had a claimant ask, “If I go back to work am I immediately determined not disabled?” And a follow up to that question is, “What happens to my SSDI benefits?” This blog will address how the SSA views work and how it can affect your disability payments. We will specifically address SSDI benefits. If you are receiving SSI or Supplemental Security Income the information in this article will not pertain to you.

Why does work affect my SSDI payment?

The bottom line is that if you are able to perform what the Social Security Administration terms “substantial gainful activity” you are not disabled, according to the SSA’s definition. Now, the SSA understands that many SSDI claimants may want to attempt to return to work without immediately losing their SSDI payments so as an incentive they have created a program which allows you to attempt to work for a specific period of time without jeopardizing your payments or your medical coverage.

The assumption is that after this “trial work period” if you decide you can work than you would be earning a salary and presumably have medical coverage (generally from your employer) so the SSA would terminate your SSDI payments.

Additionally, claimants who attempt to work for a set period of time, lose their SSDI payments but later become disabled again may be able to easily reinstate their SSDI without having to go through the exhaustive application process.

The SSA’s hope is that if they create enough work incentives and make it easy to reinstate SSDI that more and more claimants would be willing to attempt to return to the workforce. If successful, it is a win/win for both the SSDI recipient and the SSA.

How much can I work if I get SSDI?

So, for the claimant who asked, “If they return to a sedentary job does my SSDI payments immediately stop?” the answer is no. This claimant will be allowed under the ticket to work program to earn up to$720 (gross earnings). If they make more than this amount, however, they will officially trigger a “trial work period.” Note, SSDI claimants are limited to nine months of earnings above this amount, within a rolling 60-month period.

Now, 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.

What happens if you work past the 36 months of eligibility and your earnings continue to be substantial? You will have your SSDI benefits terminated. The good news, as mentioned above, is that if you decide you cannot work full-time you can apply for a reinstatement. Reinstatement can only be expedited within 60 months (assuming other requirements are met).

So, the bottom line is that if you are able to work a sedentary job for an extended period of time and your earnings are high enough, yes, eventually the SSA will determine you are no longer disabled, but it will not happen automatically.