By: Rachel Gaffney, Outreach Specialist, Disability Benefits Center
Did you realize that it’s still possible to work while receiving Social Security disability benefits? If you or someone you love would like to return to work, the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes it possible for people of all ages to work while maintaining the safety net of their monthly disability benefits and health insurance. Here’s a little more information on how you can start working on disability, and how much you can earn:
Taking a New Job
Let’s say someone offers you some kind of paid position that you’re able to manage despite your disability, like clerical work in an office on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. It may be possible to take this position without any need to file paperwork with the SSA.
The SSA defines “ability to work” as earning more than $1,180 per month (before taxes) in 2018. If your temporary position will put you over this limit, it’s best to not pursue the job if you wish to keep your Social Security benefits. If you’ll earn less than $1,180 per month, you have a few options:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients can, in theory, earn anything under $1,180 per month, but it’s safer to actually earn less than $850 per month. Any monthly earnings of $850 or more will trigger what’s called a “Trial Work Period,” where the SSA monitors your working ability closely and makes a determination as to whether you’re still eligible for benefits. It’s fine to earn more than $850 occasionally, but if you’re set on keeping your disability benefits, it’s much safer to stay under this threshold.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can also work, but they’ll have their income reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned.
The other option for people with disabilities is to participate in the Ticket to Work Program. This allows all disability recipients to strive towards some kind of concrete work goal, such as obtaining a degree in your field of interest, completing a certificate program, or receiving a job offer in a specific industry.
When you’re enrolled onto the Ticket to Work Program, all your income from working will not affect your eligibility for benefits. You can continue working for months without the worry of losing benefits or health insurance—the only point at which you’d begin losing benefits and transition to working full-time would be if you’re consistently earning more than $1,180 per month. Any participants who “fail” work attempts and would like to discontinue the Ticket to Work Program can do so without fear of paying back any benefits from the months when they worked.
Work Incentive Programs
Along with the Ticket to Work Program, the SSA has established the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program. This program helps you learn skills that are needed for employment. The program also helps you learn more about health care benefits and insurance that potential employers may
provide. Through the program, the SSA will match eligible participants and match them with programs that fit your skills.
Now that you are working and earning income, you may want to set up an ABLE account. ABLE accounts are savings accounts for those with disabilities. The beneficiary of the account is the owner. They are tax-advantaged, so the income you earn will not be taxes. The money in these accounts can be used on any expense that is a result of living with a disability (education, transportation, assistive technology and support, etc.) and it won’t affect your SSI eligibility either. There are limits to the amount of money that can be put in an ABLE account.
ABLE accounts are limited to those with disabilities whose onset of the disability was before age 26. If you meet this age requirement and are receiving SSI or SSDI already, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account.
Some state’s do not have ABLE programs set up yet, but you can still enroll in any state’s program that allows for out of state residents. Be sure to look at each state’s plan to find the one that works best for your needs.
Always Keep the SSA In Mind
Finally, it’s important to always report any earned income to the SSA, even if you’re well below the monthly limit of $1,180. If the SSA finds that you’ve been working without reporting your income, it’s possible you’ll have to pay back your monthly disability benefits for unreported months.
While it may be daunting to return to work, the SSA does have programs in place to make sure you do so safely and at your own pace.
Substantial Gainful Activity: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/sga.html
SSA’s Trial Work Period: https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/glossary/trial-work-period
Ticket to Work Program: https://www.ssa.gov/work/
Working While Receiving SSI: https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/faq/work-limit
Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program: https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/glossary/work-incentives-planning-and-assistance
ABLE National Resource Center: http://ablenrc.org/
SSA’s Website: https://www.ssa.gov/