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Can I Work While Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits?

Tuesday, November, 20, 2012


The short answer is “Yes.”  Remember that there are two types of social security disability benefits.  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is payable to those individuals who have worked a sufficient number of years and therefore contributed a sufficient amount of premium into the disability program to receive the insured benefits.  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is payable to individuals who have not worked a sufficient amount of time to receive the insurance benefits.

Social Security wants to encourage people to work.  A person on SSI is not penalized by the first $80.00 of income received each month.  After the first $80.00, fifty percent (50%) of whatever they earn is subtracted from the benefits they receive.

A person receiving SSDI can earn $1,000.00 per month (2011 level) without the income affecting his/her SSDI benefits.  Income which exceeds $1,000, in most cases, will be regarded as Substantial Gainful Activity. Even a person who earns in excess of $1,000.00 can still receive full SSDI benefits if his/her income can be reduced to under $1,000.00 by impairment related expenses such as out-of-pocket costs for necessary medication. 

Most people applying for disability benefits have significant physical or psychological problems and would prefer to be working instead of receiving the limited disability payment.  The Social Security Administration recognizes this and encourages them to try to return to work.  There is a nine month trial work period where a person on SSDI can be working full-time and earning a full income while continuing to receive SSDI benefits.  The trial work period may result in an unsuccessful work attempt, after which benefits will continue.  The work attempt need not be in consecutive months, but can be spaced out over a number of work attempts.

Many individuals are stricken with an illness, yet decide to try to work through the problem.  In some cases their illness is so severe that most people would not anticipate their continuing, yet they do.  There is a five month waiting period after the onset of a disability before Social Security benefits can begin to be paid.  If a person works through their illness for a number of months and then is forced to stop, the onset date can go back to a time when the person was still working, which includes the five month waiting period.  That period of work will be considered an unsuccessful work attempt that would be subtracted from the nine month trial work period.