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Working in Pennsylvania and Qualifying for Social Security Disability

Is it possible to work and receive Social Security disability payments? Some individuals who receive Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are anxious that if they work, it will affect their monthly benefits.  Social Security maintains rules directed to help people continue to receive monthly payments while trying to return to part-time or full-time work.  It can help to be familiar with these rules before job-hunting to make sure you do not jeopardize disability payments.  Since it is such a frequently asked question, Social Security maintains an answer to the question of whether returning to work will affect benefits.

Social Security and SSI have different rules regarding “work incentives,” which allow individuals to try working and see how they fare.

Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility

A Trial Work Period is a period of time (nine months over a 60-month period) during which you can receive full Social Security benefits.  You are required to report your work to the Social Security Administration.  If you earn over $810, or if you are self-employed and earn more than $810 or worked over 80 hours a month, you are considered to have a trial work month.

An extended period of eligibility follows a trial period, during which you have 36 months during which you can receive your benefits and work. The Administration requires that your earnings not be “substantial,” which is defined as over the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold. In 2016, that number was $1,130 for non-blind individuals (and $1,820 for the blind).  During this period, your benefits continue if you are not earning above the SGA and if you remain medically disabled.

Once income passes the substantial gainful activity threshold, disability benefits “cease.”  There is a two-month grace period.  According to the Administration, if benefits stop because of SGA earnings, you have five years to restart the benefits if your medical condition prevents you from working. After five years, it is necessary to file a new application.

Will Earnings Affect Social Security Benefits?

It is important to note that work experiences related to the disability may be deductible from monthly earnings.  If you pay out of pocket for medical supplies or service animal-related costs, these can be deducted from the earnings that determine your eligibility.  Additionally, counseling services, transportation costs, personal attendant needs, or wheelchairs may be considered work expenses. While these expenses are also useful in your daily living, the Administration allows for the deduction of these costs before earnings are counted and determined to affect eligibility for disability.

Medicare continues, since it comes with Social Security disability.  During the Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility, Medicare continues. At the end of the Trial Work Period, you will receive Medicare coverage for 93 additional months. This coverage applies even if you are working and earning SGA during that 93-month period.  After that, if you receive disability benefits following the Extended Period of Eligibility, you will also be covered by Medicare.

A Trial Work Period may make some disability recipients nervous that Social Security will be triggered to conduct a Continuing Disability Review (CD).  The fact is that these reviews are conducted randomly by Social Security.  Simply because you have embarked on a Trial Work Period will not incentivize Social Security to conduct a review.  If a review does take place, your medical records are the focus of the review, rather than your trial work.

It is important to report to the Social Security Administration that you have begun work or to report a change in your duties or hours. These can be recorded online.

At Needle Law, our Social Security attorneys help clients apply for and maintain their disability benefits.  If you are contemplating a return to the workforce, we can provide information and guidance on how to keep your benefits. Call our office for a free consultation by calling 570-344-1266.

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