Can you work while “on disability”? If you receive these Social Security benefits and aim to return to work, there are a few things that will help ensure you make the financial transition smoothly. The Federal Social Security Administration have set up a system that supports your integration into the economy, without removing your safety net. These are some of the finer details:
Basic principles of eligibility
Your Social Security insurance is coverage that you earn through taxes paid on your earnings. Part of these benefits will be paid out if you are unable to work, due to a disability, and it’s designed to replace lost income. These benefits are neither temporary or partial, and to be eligible you have to pass strict criteria. This can feel dehumanizing, but it’s intended to protect the system from being abused. To receive disability benefits, you have to meet the definition of “disabled” as defined by the Social Security Act (Act). Briefly, this would mean you’re unable to work due to a severe medical condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least one year. If you’re currently receiving benefits, and are looking at reintegrating into the world of work, it’s a relief to know your benefits won’t come to a halt!
Your 9-month trial period
The SSA has a full program designed to support your gradual reintroduction into the workforce. If you need to reskill, they’ll help with education, training, and rehabilitation into a new career that can accommodate your impairment. If you’re able to continue working in your original career, you’re eligible for a trial period that allows you to test your ability to maintain full-time employment for at least 9 months within a 60 month period, without risking your Social Security benefits. A trial month is any month in which you earn more than $880, after business expenses. If you’re self-employed, a trial month is also defined as one in which you’ve worked more than 80 hours on your business.
Expedited eligibility and reinstatement
If this trial period goes well, you’ll have a grace period of 36 months in which you can claim benefits for any month your income is below a certain threshold. In 2019, this threshold was set at $1,220 (or $2,040 if you are legally blind). After this 36-month grace period elapses, you’ll have 5 years in which you can get expedited reinstatement of your benefits, in the event you’re unable to keep working because of your condition. The best news is that you won’t need to complete a new application during this period.
How working affects your Medicare benefits
If you are permanently impaired but your Social Security benefits stop because you’re working, you may still qualify for Medicare. Your free Part A coverage will continue for a minimum of 93 months (almost 8 years!) after your benefits stop, and then you’ll be eligible for continued coverage on the same plan at a monthly premium. If you’re subscribed to the Medicare Part B plan, which requires you to pay a monthly premium, you’ll continue to receive your benefits as usual.
Work expenses related to your disability
Even after you’ve taken up permanent full-time work again, you’ll be able to deduct certain expenses from your total declared earnings. If, after these deductions, you’re earnings are below a certain threshold, you may still be eligible for continued benefits. This system is designed to ensure you’re able to make the accommodations you need to, in order to work. For example, you may have special transport needs to make the commute to and from work possible. As a person with a mobility impairment, this may mean you require a portable stair chair, or a special bus service. Before the Social Security Administration decides if you’re eligible for continued benefits, they’d take these costs into account.
With this framework in place, you can reintegrate into the working world at your own pace. To find out more about your employment support options, and to get some great ideas for work that’s sustainable if you have a mobility impairment, take a look at our resource page by clicking the link below.