Incentives for beneficiaries to return to work

Many Social Security Disability benefit recipients believe they will immediately lose their benefits if they return to work. However, as most Social Security lawyers in Chicago know, the Social Security Administration offers beneficiaries various work programs. These programs encourage beneficiaries to resume work by giving them access to special assistance and exemptions from certain SSA policies.

Special work rules

Beneficiaries may engage in work that does not qualify as substantial gainful activity without risking benefit loss. In 2014, the SSA defines substantial gainful activity as work yielding monthly income greater than $1,070. For blind individuals, the earnings limit is $1,800.

Even if an individual resumes SGA, the individual may continue collecting SSD benefits during a trial work period. Whenever monthly earnings exceed $770, the SSA counts that month as part of the trial period. Beneficiaries can still receive benefits for 9 months, even if they earn income above the SGA threshold.

After 9 months that qualify as part of the trial work period, beneficiaries working above the SGA level lose eligibility for benefits. However, they qualify for a 36-month extended eligibility period. During this time, if monthly earnings fall below the SGA threshold, the beneficiary receives his or her usual benefit.

During the five-year period after the trial work period ends, beneficiaries also qualify for expedited reinstatement of benefits. If a beneficiary requests reinstatement, the SSA automatically pays six months of benefits while evaluating the case. Even if the application is denied, the beneficiary may keep the benefits already awarded.

Other work incentives

The SSA also offers beneficiaries other special programs and rules to support them in working while disabled. These include:

  • Recognition of disability-related work expenses. These could include special accommodations the individual needs to work, such as receiving counseling or commuting via taxi. When considering whether a beneficiary is working above the SGA level, the SSA deducts these expenses from the individual’s income.
  • Medicare eligibility regardless of earnings. After the trial work period ends, beneficiaries may continue receiving Medicare Part A coverage for 93 months. Beneficiaries can also continue paying a premium for Medicare Part B coverage.
  • Vocational rehabilitation services. The SSA’s Ticket to Work program allows beneficiaries to take advantage of free services from an Employment Network or a state Vocational Rehabilitation agency. Available services include vocational training and classes on writing resumes.

Beneficiaries who opt into Ticket to Work can continue collecting benefits during the program. During that time, the SSA cannot conduct a continuing disability review, unless the individual fails to meet the program’s timely progress requirements. This helps individuals prepare for gainful work while still receiving needed support.