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I am currently receiving disability benefits, and I would like to work part-time. Will working affect my ability to receive disability benefits?

This is an excellent question. Many social security claimants retain some ability to work on a part-time basis despite their disabling condition. Social security rules can be confusing regarding whether working part-time will jeopardize an individual from receiving and/or retaining social security benefits. Whether you will lose benefits or whether those benefits will be reduced based on part-time employment depends on under which program the individual receives benefits.

Let’s begin with an important distinction. There are two disability benefit programs associated with social security and each program has different rules pertaining to part-time employment. The first program known as Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSD) is an insurance program funded by social security wage deductions. Individuals qualify for these benefits based on contributing through their wage taxes while working. If an individual is found “disabled” while “covered” under the SSD program, he or she will receive SSD benefits. The amount of benefits are related to the amount of contributions the individual has made while working.
The other program associated with social security disability benefits is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Individuals are entitled to benefits under SSI if found “disabled” regardless of whether they have contributed through wage tax deductions. The maximum monthly benefit that an individual may receive under SSI is $623.00 per month.

Under rules applicable to SSD, a recipient cannot have “substantial” earnings ($900.00 or more per month), in order to be eligible to start receiving benefits. Once an individual is eligible, he or she may engage in part-time work and continue to receive benefits, with certain restrictions. If the individual’s earnings equal or exceed $640.00 per month for at least 9 out of 60 months, social security deems such work a “trial work period.” There is no limit on the amount of money the recipient can earn during this trial work period. After the trial work period ends, the individual will receive SSD benefits for an additional 36 months, so long as his or her earnings are not “substantial” ($900.00 or more per month). If the individual’s earnings are considered “substantial” he or she will no longer qualify for benefits. However, if the individual becomes “disabled” within 5 years of the termination of the SSD benefits, he or she is able to file for reinstatement of the benefits.

SSI differs in the manner it addresses part-time work. Once an individual is found “disabled” and begins receiving SSI benefits, an SSI recipient may earn $85.00 per month before any reduction in benefits occurs. Every dollar earned beyond the $85.00 is deducted from the monthly benefit by $.50 per dollar. For example, the SSI recipient could earn $1,000.00 per month and his or her benefit would be reduced by $457.50 (($1,000.00 - $85.00) x .50) based on these part-time earnings. Each state has its own maximum amount that an individual can earn before and individual loses SSI benefits based on those earnings.

Once you are receiving either SSI or SSD benefits it is important to keep the Social Security Administration apprized of your efforts to return to work. If you are working part-time and if you exceed the allowable income, you will likely lose your monthly benefit and owe the administration for past benefits received for which you were not entitled.

If you have any questions regarding Social Security Disability benefits, or if you would like to consult with an attorney, please contact our office.