Recently on our disability forum a user asked, “I have been on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for five years. Through several back surgeries and new medicine I have seen my condition improve. I would like to return to work, but I don’t want to jeopardize my benefits until I know whether my attempt will be successful. Can you walk me through the necessary steps?”
SSDI Disability benefits overview
SSDI is provided to claimants who are disabled or injured for at least 12 continuous months and cannot work or perform substantial gainful activity (SGA).
Although it is generally provided for workers who are permanently injured, it’s not that unusual for some claimants to have a condition but eventually find that they are able to return to work. Since it sounds like you may be at this point, let’s look at the steps you can take to test your ability to return to full-time work.
- Talk to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
If you have decided that you would like to attempt to reenter the workforce the first and most important step is to talk to the SSA. Some claimants avoid this step, but this is a big mistake. In fact, going back to work and not notifying the SSA may, in some cases, lead to overpayments or lost benefits.
The good news is the SSA has specific programs they have created that may allow you to return to work while continuing to receive benefits. Understanding these programs is the next step.
- Review the programs offered to return to work.
The most common program that the SSA offers to return to work is called the Trial Work Period. Under this program, you are allowed nine months within a sixty-month rolling period (i.e. there can be gaps between your trial work months that count toward your nine-month limit) to review your ability to go back to work. A trial work month includes any month in which your earnings exceed $840 per month.
At the end of the trial work period, if the SSA determines you have been doing substantial gainful work (generally earning $1,170 or more per month), then your benefits will be terminated.
Now, here’s where it gets a bit complicated. To encourage workers to try to work Congress enacted what is termed an extended period of eligibility. During this time claimants have an additional 36-month re-entitlement period where they may still be eligible to receive a SSDI monthly payments if their work is below the SGA amount in a particular month (i.e. $1,170 in 2017).
Note: starting in the 37th month after the end of your trial work period, your EPE ends.
- Understand how to reinstate benefits.
One of the benefits to taking advantage of the Trial Work Period program is that you may be entitled to an expedited reinstatement if your countable gross income falls below the SGA amount within 60 months of the termination of your SSDI benefit (assuming your benefits were terminated due to your work activity.
So with this in mind, it may be fairly simple to reinstate benefits if your attempt to return to work fails.
The SSA encourages disabled workers to attempt to return to work.