For people who develop disabilities later in life, the social security program offers a safety net: SSDI, which stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. Individuals who have worked for periods of their lives are “insured” by social security, meaning that if they develop a condition which prevents them from working later, social security will provide them with some much needed relief.
However, because SSDI is intended for individuals with a disability, this prevents them from working. Therefore, many recipients wonder if it is legal for them to simultaneously collect the insurance and continue to earn income from various sources.
The Lowdown on SSDI
SSDI is designed specifically for individuals not capable of earning what the government deems substantial gainful activity, abbreviated SGA. Although what constitutes substantial gainful activity is open for debate, the Social Security Administration (SSA) establishes the amount of income considered SGA for the purposes of insurance. In 2013, this number was a monthly income of $1,040 or above. Individuals who earned less than this amount were not in violation of SSDI guidelines.
This does not, however, mean that individuals on SSDI can earn monthly sums of $1,040 or less indefinitely. Because the government wants individuals on insurance to get back to work, it provides a Trial Work Period, or TWP. During the TWP, individuals on SSDI can begin working and earning income while retaining their SSDI benefits. The TWP lasts a total of 9 months, but those months do not have to be consecutive — if an individual works for two months, but does not work the third, only two months of the TWP are used.
So when does the Trial Work Period start? Based on 2013 guidelines, a TWP would begin when an individual makes over $750 in a month. Like the base income level for SSDI, the amount of income necessary to begin the TWP varies year by year. After the 9th month of TWP, individuals on SSDI will receive a letter from social security indicating that they are no longer considered too disabled to work, and the regular SSDI benefits end.
After the Expiration
Even after the TWP, though, individuals may still be entitled to SSDI payments. For three years after the expiration of the TWP, former recipients can request an SSDI payment for any month in which they make less than the amount of SGA. This period is the Extended Period of Entitlement. After this period has expired, individuals are no longer entitled to any SSDI benefits. If their disability eventually prevents them from working, individuals can re-apply for SSDI.
SSDI guidelines can be confusing, and individuals often receive less than they are entitled to because they aren’t sure when and how to apply for money. Overall, while individuals on SSDI should certainly attempt to find work if they can and think that they can earn meaningful income, recipients should bear in mind that any work on their part can be used as evidence that their disability is not substantial enough to qualify them for SSDI. Those who wish to continue receiving SSDI should inform themselves about the guidelines and be careful to ensure that they get the maximum amount of money they’re entitled to.