Working While Disabled: Will I Lose My Disability if I Work Part Time?

by Lisa Allen   ·  1 month ago  
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Being awarded Social Security payments, either Social Security Supplemental Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) can be a lifeline for anyone who experiences financial need because of an injury or illness that prevents them from working. This doesn’t mean that everyone who receives Social Security disability is completely disabled, nor does it mean that everyone who receives Social Security disability can pay all of their bills on just Social Security Disability payments. In 2024, The SSI 2024 payment amounts are $943 per month for an individual and $1,415 per month for an eligible couple.

Anyone who relies solely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet has likely wondered: Will I lose my disability if I work part time?

Like so many other questions that rely on facts unique to each situation, the answer to this question is: it’s complicated. If you are wondering if you can work part-time on SSI or SSDI, let’s explore what elements factor into your ability to work while disabled.

Rules for Working While Receiving Disability Benefits

The eligibility requirements to receive disability benefits can be strict, and working–either full-time or part-time–could jeopardize those benefits if the recipient doesn’t follow the SSA’s requirements for working while on disability. To preserve your SSI or SSDI benefits while working, you must make sure that you earn less than the limits imposed by the SSA under the “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) rules.

For both SSI and SSDI, this means that if you earn more than $1,550 per month in 2024 (or $2,590 if you’re blind), you will not qualify for benefits.

However, each program has different stipulations on who can work, how much they can earn, and what factors may compromise their disability benefits.

Rules For Working While on SSDI

The rules for working while on SSDI can be complicated, but the Social Security Administration provides a number of avenues for recipients to pursue work.

SSDI Work Incentives

For recipients of SSDI benefits who want to pursue work, the Social Security Administration offers a program called the Ticket to Work program that will create a path to starting work without losing your benefits.

The Ticket to Work Program is a Social Security Administration program designed to help people receiving SSDI payments find appropriate work. It offers career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, transitional and education programs for young people and veterans, and job training and placement through authorized providers

Benefits of the Ticket to Work program include:

  • Benefit payments that continue for a set period of time after you begin a job
  • Medicare and Medicaid benefits that continue while you work
  • Assistance with education and training to help you enter a new line of work

People in this program have the potential to earn more than they would if they just collected Social Security disability payments. It is a voluntary program open to anyone on disability aged 18-64.

If you’re interested in utilizing the Ticket to Work program, there are two questions to consider: how much money will you earn by working, and will the work you do put your disability status in question with the Social Security Administration?

How Much Can I Earn While on Social Security Disability?

First, if you earn more than the SGA monthly income limits while on Social Security Disability, a trial work period will be triggered. That trial work period lasts nine months. During that nine-month trial period, you don’t have to worry about if you’ll lose your disability benefits working part-time, and there is no income cap on the amount of money you can earn during the trial work period.

After that nine-month period, the income cap is reinstated, but you then enter a 36-month trial period where you may continue to receive SSDI benefits while you work, so you can see if you’ll be able to return to Substantial Gainful Activity while still receiving support during that time. If you earn more than SGA, your benefits will be suspended for the month you exceed that amount, but if your earnings fall below SGA, your benefits can be reinstated without filing a new application.

After the 3-year trial period, if you earn more than SGA, your benefits will end.

You should consider the type of work you do through the Ticket to Work Program. This is because doing work that shows that you might be able to hold a job, despite your disability, could call your disability benefits into question. For example, if you get a job delivering flowers, which requires that you walk and lift sometimes bulky things, the Social Security Administration might wonder if you are capable enough to do so in a traditional work capacity.

How Long Can I Work Part Time Before I Lose My Disability Benefits?

After that nine-month trial period, you will not lose your benefits if the income you earn from your job–whether part or full time–doesn’t exceed $1,550.00 per month (or $2,590.00 if you are blind). This threshold is called Sustainable Gainful Activity (SGA) and it’s the number that the Social Security Administration uses as a cut-off for benefits: if you earn less, you won’t lose your benefits; if you earn that or more, your benefits will be permanently suspended.

Rules For Working While on SSI

With Supplemental Security Income, there are additional stipulations and rules that could limit your ability to work part-time on SSI. These include asset limits, the SGA limitations, and various SSI work incentives you can employ.

SSI Work Incentives

Supplemental Security Income recipients who want to work part-time have access to a program called PASS (Plan to Achieve Self-Support). This program lets you save money for specific goals that will help you return to work and reduce your dependence upon SSI. Any money you use to help achieve your work goal through PASS is not counted when the SSA determines how your current income and resources affect your benefits. The income you use as part of your PASS can be used for some of the following opportunities:

  • Schooling to seek training for a job or start a business
  • Transportation costs for getting to and from work
  • Childcare or attendant care
  • Employment services like job coaching or resume writing
  • Assistive technology for employment-related use
  • Supplies to start a business
  • Equipment and other tools necessary to perform a job
  • Uniforms, safety equipment, etc.

To set up a PASS, determine your work goal and the items and services you need to achieve that goal. Then, fill out the PASS form (Form SSA-545-BK) and submit to your Social Security office for approval. From there, a PASS expert will review your application and provide feedback on whether the work goal and the cost of resources are reasonable.

Additionally, if you have impairment related work expenses, you may be able to subtract their cost from your monthly earnings while determining eligibility.

Asset Limits For SSI Recipients

In addition to the SGA rules that impact both programs, SSI also mandates a maximum level of savings and assets that recipients can hold. This amount is $2,000 for individuals or $3,000 for married couples and includes assets like the following:

  • Cash
  • Stocks, mutual funds, savings bonds, etc.
  • Land
  • Life insurance
  • Personal property
  • Vehicles

This requirement can be very restrictive for SSI recipients interested in seeking employment, though there are some exceptions for the resource limit, such as your home, household goods and personal effects, one vehicle, property you need for self support, and several other assets.

While this doesn’t necessarily impact if you can work while on disability, you’ll need to be aware of your income, your level of savings, and whether that income from your part-time job will push you above the SGA or savings thresholds.

What if I Just Don’t Tell the Social Security Administration About my Part-time Job?

The law requires that you disclose any employment to the Social Security Administration when you receive either Social Security Disability payments or Supplemental Social Security Insurance (SSDI).

Even if you decided to break the law by not voluntarily informing the Social Security Administration of employment, the IRS does it for you: it automatically provides the Social Security Administration with copies of all tax returns annually.

This means that not only would the Social Security Administration know that you didn’t report your income; it means that it could suspend your benefits and issue an overpayment letter.

An overpayment letter is a notice from the Social Security Administration that you received funds that they have now determined you should not have received. If you feel that’s incorrect, you have five years to request that your monthly payments be reinstated. This is called Expedited Reinstatement

Can I Volunteer Without Losing my Disability Benefits?

If you’re receiving Social Security Disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income and are considering volunteering, it’s natural to have concerns about how this might impact your benefits. Fortunately, the rules around volunteering while disabled are clearer than those for working part-time.

In general, you’re allowed to volunteer while receiving disability benefits. However, there are some limitations. The Social Security Administration usually permits recipients to volunteer for two to three hours per week without any issue.

If you want to volunteer more extensively, you’ll need to do so through organizations that are approved by the Social Security Administration. Examples of such organizations include the Foster Grandparent Program, the Active Corps of Executives, and others.

By keeping these guidelines in mind, you can enjoy the benefits of volunteering without affecting your disability benefits.

How to Get Free Expert Help Qualifying for Disability Benefits

When it comes to questions regarding your disability benefits, it’s best not to navigate the complexities on your own. Consulting with a legal professional can provide the guidance and support you need to make informed decisions about your employment and volunteering activities while receiving benefits. Whether it’s understanding your rights, calculating your earnings, or ensuring compliance with the Social Security Administration’s rules, a social security disability lawyer can be your advocate and ally. Don’t hesitate to seek expert advice and protect your financial stability.

Can I Work While Disabled? Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are work incentives?

Work incentives are programs designed to encourage and support individuals receiving disability benefits to re-enter the workforce. These programs provide various services and protections, such as career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, job training, and extended benefit payments.

Are the work incentives offered by SSI the same as those offered by SSDI?

While there are similarities between the work incentives offered by SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), there are also key differences. The Ticket to Work program, for example, is specific to SSDI and offers benefits such as continued benefit payments, Medicare and Medicaid coverage, and assistance with education and training.

What happens if I lose my job while I’m on a trial work period?

If you lose your job during the trial work period, you will continue to receive your disability benefits as long as you report your employment status to the Social Security Administration. The trial work period is designed to give you the opportunity to test your ability to work and still receive benefits.

Will I lose my Medicare coverage if I lose SSDI benefits?

If you lose your SSDI benefits, you may still be eligible for Medicare coverage depending on the circumstances. For example, if you are under 65 and have been receiving SSDI benefits for more than 24 months, you will automatically become eligible for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance). However, it’s essential to review your individual situation with a legal professional to ensure you understand your specific benefits and rights

Lisa Allen
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Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.