Social Security disability benefits are available to people who are considered “disabled” by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The qualifications for disability can be complex, but if you are unable to work for at least 12 months due to a medical condition, you may be eligible. Disability benefits will provide you with the financial security to focus on moving forward with life despite your medical impairments. For some people, moving forward means eventually returning to work. When that time comes, you likely have several questions about the status of your Social Security disability benefits eligibility when returning to work.
Will Your Benefits Stop?
Your Social Security disability benefits will not immediately be terminated. Although disability benefits are helpful when you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity, most people want to work instead of living on the limited benefits provided by the SSA. However, the thought of losing any income can be intimidating. If you are ready to try to return to work, you can rest assured that you will be eligible for work incentives while you attempt to work full-time.
Work incentives include:
- Continued cash disability benefits
- Continued Medicare or Medicaid
- Assistance with education, training, and rehabilitation to start a new line of work
- Assistance with impairment-related expenses
Continued Cash Benefits
The SSA understands that you may feel ready to return to work, but be unsure of your abilities. They allow for a trial work period, which can last for up to nine months of eligible work within a 60-month period. Any month that your income rises above a certain amount ($810 in 2016) counts as a trial work month. After that, you may qualify for an extended period of eligibility for up to 36 months. Any month in which you earn less than a “substantial” amount ($1,130 in 2016 or $1,820 if you’re blind) counts as an extended eligibility month. The trial work period and extended period of Social Security disability benefits eligibility will provide you with some leeway in case you’re unable to maintain substantial gainful activity on a continuous basis, but you still want to try to return to work.
If you attempt to work and your benefits stop, you may still be eligible for expedited reinstatement for up to five years if you become unable to work again because of your conditions. You are not required to file a new application and go through the exhaustive and time consuming process of applying for disability benefits again.
Continued Medical Benefits
Although you may feel able to return to work, you likely still have significant medical expenses. While receiving Social Security disability benefits, you may be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. The SSA allows for continued Medicare benefits for up to 93 months after your trial work period ends. Since Medicaid is based on income, your eligibility will depend on your income.
Education, Training, and Rehabilitation
Ticket to Work is a program SSA offers so that you may receive:
- Free vocational rehabilitation
- Job referrals
- Other employment support
While participating in the program, you will not undergo any medical reviews. If, however, you no longer meet SSA’s definition of disability, your disability benefits monthly payments will continue if you are actively participating in an approved vocational rehabilitation program.
If you are a student, the SSA does not count certain funds you receive, such as grants, scholarships, fellowships or a gifts, that are used towards paying for your tuition, fees and other educational expenses as income and resources for up to nine months.
Work Expenses Related to Returning to Work
Although you may feel able to return to some kind of work, you may need some help to engage in substantial gainful activity. The SSA will pay for certain items and services necessary for you to return to work. Impairment-related work expenses may include:
- Taxi or public transportation expenses
- Counseling services
- Service animals
- Work or home modifications
- Attendant care services
Any impairment-related work expenses that you pay for will be deducted from your income for benefit eligibility purposes. Thus, if you earn $1,000 per month, but must pay for $250 in special transportation costs, your income after deductions is $750, which would qualify as a trial work period month.
What You Need to Do When You Start Working Again
While you will still be eligible for several types of Social Security disability benefits after you begin working again, you must report to the SSA any time:
- You start or stop work
- Your work duties, hours, or pay change
- You start or stop paying for impairment-related work expenses
You may report such changes by phone, mail, or in person. If your changes amount to a substantial change in income or make you ineligible for some continued benefits, the SSA will notify you by mail. They may also ask for additional information from you, your employer, or your medical providers.
For More Information About Social Security Disability Benefits Eligibility
Returning to work can be exciting as well as confusing for someone who receives Social Security disability benefits. You may have questions regarding your continued eligibility for cash and medical benefits. You may be unsure of how to meet your impairment-related work expenses. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can discuss your concerns regarding your Social Security disability benefits eligibility when returning to work. Contact Wilkinson & Magruder LLP at (706) 550-6749 for answers to your Social Security disability questions.