Returning to Work While Collecting Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits

Q: If I return to work, will I immediately lose my Social Security Disability Insurance benefits?

A common question Social Security Disability benefits attorneys often hear from clients who are either applying for disability benefits or are already receiving benefits is “What will happen to my benefits if I return to work?”.

Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits is an income-based federal benefits program. In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, an applicant must be younger than 65 years of age, satisfy the minimum number of work credits, and meet the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) definition of “disabled”. Work credits are earned based on a formula under which workers need to work a minimum number of hours for a minimum number of years while paying payroll tax taxes into the Social Security system. SSDI is granted for both physical and mental disabilities provided the disability is serious, long-term, and possibly terminal in nature, again as outlined in the SSA’s legal definition.

While SSDI benefits are long-term in nature, they are not always permanent. Sometimes recipients upon future review may be determined to no longer qualify as disabled. More common perhaps is the situation where a recipient may be recovering and may want to try to return to the workforce. It is this situation where people fear losing their SSDI benefits only to find but they aren’t able to handle the return to the workforce.

If this is you, the Social Security Administration has your back.

The Social Security Administration, in an effort to encourage benefits recipients to attempt to return to work when they feel they are able to do so, has established a 3-step program. Here are the basics, in a nutshell.

In the first step, known as the Trial Work Period (“TWP”), workers are able to return to work and receive their full SSDI benefits regardless of how much salary they earn for up to a nine-month period.

Step two begins when the Trial Work Period ends. It’s called the three-year Extended Period of Eligibility (“EPE”). What, if any, benefits you are entitled to depends on whether you earn more or less than the current Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) level established by SSA. For 2017, the SGA level is $1,170. So, during this three-year period of working, you are eligible for SSDI benefits for each month you earn less than the SGA level.

The third and final step of the return to work program is called the Expedited Reinstatement Period. This five-year period begins when the three-year EPE period has ended. If it anytime during this five-year period your earnings fall below the current SGA threshold, “you can quickly get back on SSDI benefits” without going through a complete re-application.

The three-step program encourages disability benefits recipients to give returning to work their best shot because they’ve got nothing to lose. If returning to work goes well, the recipient will be in a better financial situation and if it doesn’t work out, they won’t be any worse off for having tried.

There are rules and regulations regarding returning to work and a recipient is not advised to do so without for seeking counsel from either an attorney experienced in Social Security disability benefits law or a representative at the SSA.

If you or a loved one has become disabled and would like assistance applying for Social Security disability benefits or appealing the denial of SSDI benefits, the Arizona Social Security disability law firm of Roeschke Law can help you at any phase of the process.

Call us to request a free consultation at 800-975-1866. From our offices in Phoenix, Tucson, and Tempe, we represent clients throughout Arizona in all areas of disability law.