Can I Work While Receiving Benefits?
If you are receiving disability benefits and are interested in working, Social Security’s Work Incentives Program can help you. Special rules make it possible for people who are receiving Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still continue to receive monthly disability payments until they are able to work on a regular basis.
In addition, if you cannot continue working because of your medical condition, your benefits can start again—you may not have to file a new application.
Work incentives include:
– Continued cash benefits for a time while you work;
– Continued Medicare or Medicaid while you work; and
– Help with education, training and rehabilitation in order to start a new line of work.
The rules are different under Social Security and SSI.
Trial work period—The trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months. During your trial work period you will receive your full Social Security benefits regardless of how much you are earning. The trial work period continues until you have worked nine months within a 60-month period.
Extended period of eligibility—After your trial work period, you have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not “substantial.” In 2005, earnings of $830 or more ($1,380 if you are blind) are considered substantial. (Note: what is considered substantial earnings changes yearly and you should check with your local social security office for the most recent criteria). No new application or disability decision is needed for you to receive a Social Security disability benefit during this period.
Quick benefit restart—If your earnings become substantial and as a result your benefits stop, you have five years during which you may ask SSA to start your benefits immediately if you find yourself unable to continue working because of your condition. You will not have to file a new disability application and you will not have to wait for your benefits to start while your medical condition is being reviewed to make sure you are still disabled.
Continuation of Medicare—If your Social Security disability benefits stop because of your earnings, but you are still disabled, your free Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least 8½ years after the nine-month trial work period. After that, you can buy Medicare Part A coverage by paying a monthly premium.
Work expenses related to your disability—If you work, you may have to pay for certain items and services that people without disabilities do not pay for. For example, because of your medical condition, you may need to take a taxi to work instead of public transportation. SSA may be able to deduct the cost of the taxi from your monthly earnings before SSA determines if you are still eligible for benefits.
How your earnings affect your Social Security benefits
During the trial work period, there are no limits on your earnings. During the 36-month extended period of eligibility you usually can earn no more than $830 per month or your benefits will stop. However, the work expenses you incur as a result of your disability are deducted when SSA calculates your earnings to see if they can help you keep more of your benefits. If you have extra work expenses, your earnings could be substantially higher than $830 before they affect your benefits. This substantial earnings amount usually increases each year. Please contact your local social security office for the most recent substantial earning criteria.
SSA deducts work expenses related to your disability from your earnings before SSA determines if you are still eligible for benefits. These expenses may include the cost of any item or service you need to work, even if the item or service is also useful to you in your daily living. Examples of such work expenses include: prescription drugs, transportation to and from work (under certain conditions), a personal attendant or job coach, a wheelchair or any specialized work equipment.
If you lose your job during a trial work period, your benefits are not affected. If you lose your job during the 36-month extended period of eligibility, call SSA and your benefits will be reinstated as long as you are still disabled.
Special rules for workers who are blind
There are special rules that apply to a person who is receiving Social Security benefits and is blind. In 2005, you can earn up to $1,380 per month, before your earnings may affect your benefits. Please note that the substantial earning is adjusted yearly, and you should check with your local Social Security office for the most recent criteria. If you earn too much to receive disability benefits, you are still eligible for a disability “freeze”. What this means is that SSA will not count those years in which you had little or no earnings because of your disability in figuring your future benefits. This can help you because your benefits are based on your highest earnings over your work life.
SSI Work Incentives –
* Continuation of SSI—SSI payments are made to people with disabilities who have little income or resources. If you work despite your disability, you may continue to receive payments until your earnings, added with any other income, exceed the SSI income limits. This limit is different in every state. Even if your SSI payments stop, your Medicaid coverage usually will continue if your earnings are less than your state level.
* Quick benefit restart—If SSA stopped your payments because of your earnings and you become unable to work again because of your medical condition, you may ask SSA to start your payments again. You will not have to file a new disability application if you make this request within five years after the month your benefits stopped.
* Work expenses related to your disability—As with disability under Social Security, if you work, you may have to pay for certain items and services that people without disabilities do not pay for. For example, because of your medical condition, you may need to take a taxi to work, instead of public transportation. SSA may be able to deduct the cost of the taxi from your monthly earnings before SSA determines if you are still eligible for benefits.
* Plan for achieving self-support—If you develop a plan for a work goal that will help you leave the SSI rolls, any money you use for this purpose will not be counted when SSA calculates how your current income and resources affect your payment amount. * Students with disabilities—SSA does not count up to $1,140 of your earnings a month in 2005 (maximum of $5,670 for 2005) when SSA computes your SSI payment amount if you:
– Are under age 22;
– Are not married;
– Are not the head of your own household; and
– Go to school or are in a training program on a regular basis.
How your earnings affect your SSI payments
The amount of your SSI payments is based on how much other income you have. When your other income goes up, your SSI payments usually go down. So when you earn more than the SSI limit, your payments will stop for those months. But, your payments will automatically start again for any month your income drops to less than the SSI limits. Just tell SSA if your earnings are reduced, or if you stop working.
If your only income, besides SSI, is the money you earn from your job, then SSA does not count the first $85 of your monthly earnings. SSA deducts from your SSI payments 50 cents off every dollar you earn after the $85 deduction.
Example: You work and earn $1,000 in December. You receive no other income besides your earnings and your SSI. SSA would deduct $457.50 from your SSI payment for December.
$915 divided by 2 = $457.50
You may be eligible for a “plan for achieving self-support” which allows you to use money and resources for a specific work goal. These funds do not count when SSA calculates how your current income and resources affect your benefit amount.
How long your Medicaid will continue
In general, your Medicaid coverage will continue, even after your SSI payments stop, until your income reaches a certain level. That level varies with each state and reflects the cost of health care in your state. (SSA can tell you the Medicaid level for your state.) However, if your health care costs are higher than this level, you can have more income and keep your Medicaid. In most states, for your Medicaid to continue, you must:
– Need it in order to work;
– Be unable to afford similar medical coverage without SSI;
– Continue to have a disabling condition; and
– Meet all other SSI eligibility requirements.
If you qualify for Medicaid under these rules, SSA will review your case from time to time to see if you are still disabled or blind and still earn less than your state’s allowable level.
Your Ticket to Work
With the Ticket to Work program, SSA sends you a “ticket” you can use to obtain vocational rehabilitation, training, job referrals and other employment support services free of charge. You will not need to undergo medical reviews while you are using the ticket. You can get more information on the Ticket to Work program by calling Maximus, Inc., the ticket program manager, at 1-866-968-7842 toll-free (TTY 1-866-833-2967). Or you can call the toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY number 1-800-325-0778) and ask for a copy of Your Ticket To Work (Publication No. 05-10061).