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Working While Disabled: How The Social Security Administration Can Help

Part 1: Why We Want To Help You Return To Work

If you are receiving Social Security disability insurance benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, but still want to work, this booklet provides information to help you treat your disability as a “bridge,” not the end of the road.

The decision to work and earn as much as you can is yours, of course. However, many people see their work as more than just extra cash. They cite the satisfaction they get from overcoming a disability through their abilities, making new friends and getting back in the mainstream. Most find that their earnings gradually increase to the point where they are better off working than not working.

A National Policy

Helping people with disabilities to lead independent and fuller lives is a national policy affecting both the government and the private sector. Most of the rules discussed in this booklet are the results of laws passed in 1980 and 1987. In addition, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities who wish to work. Most recently, Congress passed the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, which substantially expands opportunities for people with disabilities.

The new law establishes the Ticket to Work and SelfSufficiency Program, which is being phased in nationally over a three year period. It provides beneficiaries with disabilities a ticket they can take to an employment network for rehabilitation and employment services. The ticket program will start in 13 states and more states will be added as we gain experience in administering the program.

The first 13 states to get the ticket program are: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin.

If you live in one of these states, you may receive a ticket with an instruction booklet explaining how to use the ticket from the ticket program manager, MAXIMUS, Inc. The number is 18669687842 (TTY 18668332967). If you do not live in a ticket state but would like more information about the law, you may call our tollfree number, 18007721213, and ask for the factsheet, The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.

How We Can Help You Work

Social Security disability insurance benefits are paid to people with disabilities or to individuals who are blind and who have worked under Social Security and to their dependents. SSI disability benefits are paid to people with disabilities or to individuals who are blind who have little income and few resources. Social Security beneficiaries with low income and few resources also may qualify for SSI. Although there are differences between Social Security and SSI, the work incentives under both programs are designed to accomplish the same objective: to provide support and assistance while you attempt to return to work or as you enter the workforce for the first time.

If you’re like most people, you would rather work than stay home. But working is a big step for a person with a disability, and you probably have many fears and questions about what could happen to your monthly benefits. “How will my benefits be affected?” “Will I lose my Medicare or Medicaid?” “What about the extra cost of working because of my disability?” Social Security and SSI have special rules called “work incentives” to help you overcome some of these fears and problems. These work incentives include:

  • Cash benefits while you work;
  • Medicare and/or Medicaid while you work;
  • Help with any extra work expenses you may have as a result of your disability; and
  • Help with education, training and
    Rehabilitation to start a new line of work.

Part 2: What You Should Know About Social Security Work Incentives

Work Incentive Rules At A Glance

Following is a brief description of the rules that will help you work while you get Social Security disability benefits. More detail is included in the pages that follow.

Trial Work Period - If you return to work for nine months (not necessarily consecutive), your earnings will not affect your Social Security benefit. If the nine months of trial work do not fall within a 60month period, you may have even longer to test your ability to work.

Extended Period Of Eligibility - For at least 36 months after a successful trial work period, if you continue to work while disabled, you may receive a benefit for any month your earnings fall below the “substantial gainful activity” level (in 2002, $780 a month for people with disabilities, $1,300 a month for people who are blind).

Expedited Reinstatement Of Benefits - If you become unable to work again because of your medical condition within 60 months after your extended period of eligibility has ended, and your benefits were stopped because of your earnings, you may request reinstatement of benefits without filing a new disability application.

Continuation Of Medicare - If you have premiumfree Medicare hospital insurance and you start working, you may have at least 8½ years of extended coverage (including the ninemonth trial work period). After that, you can buy Medicare coverage by paying a monthly premium.

ImpairmentRelated Work Expenses - Certain expenses for things you need because of your impairment in order to work may be deducted when counting earnings to determine if you are performing substantial work.

Recovery During Vocational Rehabilitation - If you medically recover while participating in a vocational rehabilitation program that is likely to lead to becoming selfsupporting, benefits may continue until the program ends.

Special Rules For Persons Who Are Blind - If you are blind, several special rules will help you work.

Help For LowIncome Medicare Beneficiaries - If you get Medicare and have low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other “outofpocket” Medicare expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify. To find out if you do, contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid agency. For more general information about the program, contact Social Security and ask for a copy of the leaflet, Medicare Savings Programs (HCFA Publication No. 10126).

Answers To Most Commonly Asked Questions

How Long Will Social Security Continue While I Work?

Generally, you’ll receive your full monthly Social Security benefit for a year after you return to work. If you continue to work beyond that while still disabled, your eligibility for monthly cash benefits will continue for at least another 36 months. Here’s how it works:

You usually can have a trial work period of nine months (not necessarily consecutive) during which your benefits will not be affected by your earnings regardless of how much you earn. A trial work month is any month in which your total earnings are more than $560 or, if you are selfemployed, you earn more than $560 (after expenses) or spend more than 80 hours in your own business. When nine trial work months are successfully completed within 60 months, we review your work to see if your earnings are “substantial.” (Generally, more than $780 per month is considered “substantial” earnings.) If they are, your benefits would continue for a threemonth grace period and then stop.

However, if you are still medically disabled and continue to work in spite of your disability, your benefits can be reinstated anytime during the next 36 months. During this time, you will receive your full Social Security benefit for any month your earnings fall below $780. Benefits would continue as long as you remain disabled and your earnings do not exceed $780 a month.

How Much Can I Earn Before I Start Losing Benefits?

Usually, earnings of more than $780 a month are considered substantial. If your earnings average less than $780 a month, your benefits generally would continue indefinitely.

If your earnings average more than $780 a month, this is considered an indication of your ability to work.

During the trial work period, there are no limits on your earnings. During the 36month extended period of eligibility, the $780 level is the cutoff point. But, under another work incentive rule explained in the next answer, the work expenses you have as a result of your disability are deducted when we count your earnings to see if they affect your benefits. This means your earnings could be substantially higher than $780 before they affect your benefits.

What Kind Of Help With My Work Expenses Can I Expect?

We deduct work expenses related to your disability from your earnings before we determine your continued eligibility for benefits. These expenses may include the cost of any item or service you need to work, even if the item or service also is useful to you in your daily living. Examples include a seeing eye dog, 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 also receive SSI payments, see Pages 18 and 19 about a special rule called a “plan for achieving selfsupport” (PASS) that permits you to set aside funds and resources for a specific work goal.

What Happens If I Lose My Job?

If you lose your job during a trial work period, your benefits are not affected. If you lose your job during the 36month “extended period of eligibility” (see Page 5), call us and your benefits will be reinstated as long as you are still disabled. You do not have to reapply for benefits or undergo any “waiting period” as you did when you first applied for disability benefits.

If you become unable to work due to your disability within 60 months after you complete the extended period of eligibility, your benefits could be reinstated immediately without a new application or waiting period (see Page 5).

How Long Would Medicare Continue Once I Start Working?

Your Medicare coverage will continue through the trial work period and may continue for at least 93 months after the trial work period if you are still disabled. During this period, your hospital insurance coverage is free. When your Medicare coverage runs out after this period and you are still disabled, you may purchase the same coverage for a monthly premium.

What About Help With Rehabilitation, Training Or Education?

If you are likely to benefit from rehabilitation, you are referred to a state rehabilitation agency or private organization for rehabilitation services. Social Security pays for the services if you are successfully rehabilitated. If you recover from your disability while in an approved rehabilitation or training program that is likely to result in your becoming selfsupporting, benefits will continue until the program is over.

For example, if you were in a nurse’s aide training program and your condition improved so that you were no longer disabled, benefits ordinarily would stop. But if you have contacted Social Security and we are aware of your participation in the program and have approved it, then your benefits would continue until the program is over. For more information on Social Security and vocational rehabilitation, ask for the special leaflet, How Social Security Can Help with Vocational Rehabilitation (Publication No. 0510050).

How Do I Find Out If I Can Work Again?

Just notify any Social Security office that you want to start working on a trial basis. If a periodic review of your condition was scheduled, we will put it off until your trial work period is over.

Are There Special Rules for Workers Who Are Blind?

If you are a blind person who works while receiving Social Security benefits, special rules apply to you.

You can earn up to $1,300 a month in the year 2002 before your earnings affect your benefits.

If your earnings are too high to receive disability benefits, you are still eligible for a disability “freeze.” This means that those years in which you had low or no earnings because of your disability will not be counted in figuring your future benefits, which are based on your average earnings over your worklife.

If you are age 55 to 65, a more lenient rule is used to determine your inability to work. It says that you can receive disability benefits if you cannot do the same or similar work you did before you reached age 55 or became blind, whichever is later. (The regular rule requires that a disabled person be unable to do any type of work in the general economy.) For more information on special rules for blind persons, ask Social Security for the booklet, If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision -How We Can Help (Publication No. 0510052).

Example Of What Happens When You Work Under Social Security While Disabled

Pamela Watson, age 24, was receiving disability benefits of $557 a month based on a childhood condition that made it difficult for her to walk. She wanted to work but was afraid of losing her benefits and Medicare. When she discussed this with a Social Security representative, she was told about disability work incentives under which she could work and still get cash benefits and Medicare. She found out that for the first nine months of work, her benefits would not be affected no matter how much she earned. Pamela started working in a local laundry part time and earned $850 a month. Here’s how her income changed:

$ 850   Gross earnings
+ 557   Social Security check
$1,407  Total income

At the end of the nine months of work, Social Security evaluated Pamela’s work to see if it was substantial. Since she was earning more than $780, her work was considered substantial. Her benefits continued for three more months and then stopped. However, because she still was disabled, her benefits could be reinstated anytime during the next 36 months if her earnings dropped below $780. During the first year after her trial work period, her company relocated outside the city, where there were no bus lines. She hired a neighbor to drive her to work and paid a coworker to take her home. Her transportation expenses totaled $120 a month.

In addition, she purchased a special motorized wheelchair so she could get around the new suburban plant. This cost $75 a month. Let’s figure Pamela’s “countable” earnings after deducting her impairmentrelated work expenses:

$850  Gross earnings
195   Subtract work expenses
$655  Countable earnings

Because her countable earnings are less than $780, Pam’s Social Security checks were reinstated. Her total net income now is:

$655    Countable earnings
+ 557   Social Security check
$1,212  Total income

After a year, she paid off the motorized chair and she received a $340 raise. Her earnings increased to $990 a month. Her countable earnings now are:

$990  Gross earnings
120   Subtract work expenses
$870   Countable earnings

Because her countable earnings now exceed the “substantial” level ($780), her Social Security benefits will stop. As you can see, at each point in her working life, Pamela’s income was greater than it would have been if she had not worked. In addition, her Medicare coverage continued for 93 months following the trial work period.

Part 3: What You Should Know About SSI Work Incentives Work Incentive Rules At A Glance

Following is a brief description of the rules that will help you work while you get SSI benefits. More detail is included in the pages that follow.

Continuation Of SSI - If you work, you may continue to receive payments until the income we count exceeds the SSI limits.

Expedited Reinstatement Of Benefits - If your SSI disability benefits have ended because of earnings from work and you again become unable to work because of your medical condition, you have 60 months during which you may request reinstatement of benefits without filing a new application.

Continuation Of Medicaid Eligibility - Your Medicaid will usually continue even if you earn over the SSI limits if you cannot afford similar medical care and depend on Medicaid in order to work.

Plans For Achieving SelfSupport - You may set aside income and resources toward an approved plan for achieving selfsupport (PASS).

Work Expenses Related To Your Disability - Certain work expenses you have because of your impairment may be subtracted from your earnings when we determine your eligibility and payment amount. If you are blind, the work expenses need not be related to the impairment.

Recovery During Vocational Rehabilitation - If you recover while participating in a vocational rehabilitation program that is likely to lead to becoming selfsupporting, benefits may continue until the program ends.

Students With Disabilities - Most scholarships or grants used to pay for tuition, books and other expenses directly related to getting an education don’t count as income if you go to school or are in a training program. You also may exclude up to $1,320 of earnings a month (up to a maximum of $5,340 a year).

Help For Low Income - Medicare Beneficiaries If you get Medicare and have low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other “outofpocket” Medicare expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify. To find out if you do, contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid agency. For more general information about the program, contact Social Security and ask for a copy of the leaflet, Medicare Savings Programs (HCFA Publication No. 10126).

Answers To Most Commonly Asked Questions

How Long Will My SSI Benefits Continue After I Go Back To Work?

It depends on how much you earn. The amount of your SSI check is based on how much other income you have. When your other income goes up, your SSI check usually goes down. So when your earnings push your income over the SSI limits, your checks will stop for those months. (We discuss these limits in the answers to the next two questions.) But, your checks will start up again without a new application for any month your income drops below the SSI limits. If you’re off both SSI and Medicaid for 12 months or more, and your disability ended because of earnings from work, you have 60 months to request a reinstatement of benefits without a new application.

How Do Earnings Reduce My Payments?

If your only income besides SSI is the money you make from your job, then we don’t count the first $85 in earnings you get each month. Onehalf of what you earn over $85 is deducted from your SSI check.

If you have other income besides earnings (such as a Social Security check), then we don’t count the first $65 in earnings you get each month. Onehalf of what you make over $65 is deducted from your SSI payments. But, $20 of your other income, such as your Social Security check, is not counted either.

How Much Can I Earn Before I Lose All My Benefits?

If you have no other income besides earnings, you may earn up to $1,174 a month in 2002 before losing your entire federal SSI payment. But if you live in a state that adds money to your federal SSI payment, you may earn more. If you have other income, such as Social Security benefits, the amount you can earn before losing any payment may be lower. However, when you apply for SSI disability payments, we consider earnings of $780 or more an indication that you are able to do “substantial work” and you would not qualify for SSI on the basis of disability.

What Happens If I Lose Or Quit My Job?

If you lose your job while you still are getting SSI, your payments will be increased because of your reduced income.

If you lose your job within 60 months after your payments stopped because your earnings were too high, and you are still disabled, your benefits will start again without an application.

How Long Will Medicaid Continue While I’m Working?

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. (Your Social Security office 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.

Also, for Medicaid to continue, you must:

  • need it in order to work;
  • be unable to afford similar health insurance coverage without SSI;
  • continue to have a disabling condition; and
  • meet all nondisability requirements other than earnings.

If you qualify for Medicaid under these rules, we will review your case to see if you are still disabled or blind.

How Can SSI Help Me With My Work Expenses?

The rules work the same as if you were receiving Social Security benefits. Work expenses that are related to your disability are deducted from your earnings when we figure if they are high enough to affect your benefits. These expenses may include work equipment, such as a special typewriter or desk, or modifications to your car or home to help you get to and from work. This means you can earn well over the SSI income limits and still continue to get payments.

What About Training And Rehabilitation Help?

Under SSI, there’s a special rule called a “plan for achieving selfsupport,” or PASS. A PASS permits you to put aside money and assets toward a plan designed to help you support yourself. The money set aside won’t reduce your SSI payment. The goal of your plan may be to start a business or get a job.

If you have too much income to get SSI, a PASS may help you qualify. You may set aside the necessary income and assets to accomplish a work goal, and these funds will not count when we decide if you are eligible for SSI or how much SSI you receive.

In addition, as under Social Security, if you recover from your disability while you are in an approved vocational rehabilitation program, your SSI payments will continue until you have completed the program. For more information on vocational rehabilitation opportunities, ask for the special leaflet, How Social Security Can Help With Vocational Rehabilitation (Publication No. 0510050).

How Do I Get Started On A PASS?

Anyone can help you with a PASS, including your vocational rehabilitation worker, employer or the Social Security office. In general, the following rules apply:

  • the PASS must state a clear and realistic work goal;
  • your goal must be a job or business that will produce sufficient income to reduce your dependency on SSI payments;
  • the PASS must state the amount and sources of income or resources that will be set aside;
  • the PASS must state how you will spend the money;
  • you must be able to achieve the goal of the PASS within a specified period of time; and
  • the PASS must be approved by Social Security.

For more information about setting up a PASS, ask for the leaflet, Working While Disabled-A Guide To Plans For Achieving SelfSuppor (Publication No. 0511017).

Are There Special Rules For Persons Who Are Blind?

If you are blind, most work expenses you have (not just those related to your disability) may be deducted from your income when we decide if you are eligible for SSI. For example, special clothes needed on the job or special equipment needed to work can be deducted. For more information on special rules for blind persons, ask Social Security for the booklet, If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision-How We Can Help (Publication No. 0510052).

Example Of What Happens When You Work Under SSI

Denni Hunt receives an SSI payment of $545 each month and has Medicaid coverage. This is her only income. She was offered a job in a local fast food restaurant and contacted Social Security to see how this would affect her SSI payment. She was told that Social Security would not count the first $85 of earnings if she had no other income.

Only half of the earnings over $85 would be counted against the SSI payment. Here is how her SSI payment would be affected:

$215  Gross monthly earnings
85     Subtract the $85 earnings deduction
$130   Net Monthly Earnings
$130 ÷ 2  Divide by 2 for earnings we count
$65   Earnings we count
$545  Subtract from SSI payment
65
$480  New SSI payment
+215  Add monthly earnings
$695  Total income

Note that before she started working, Denni’s total income was her SSI check of $545. Now that she’s working, she has that extra income in addition to her SSI check ($480), so her total income is $695, even though her SSI payment is slightly reduced.

Denni’s pay increases to $367 a month after 18 months. She purchases an electric wheelchair, which costs $52 a month, to help her move around better at work. Here’s how the impairmentrelated work expense deduction helps her:

$367  Gross earnings
85     Subtract the $85 earnings deduction
$282   Net Monthly Earnings

52    Subtract work expenses
$230  New Net Monthly Earnings
÷ 2     Divide by 2 to get earnings we count
$115  Earnings we count

$545  Subtract from SSI payment
115
$430  New SSI payment
+367 Add monthly earnings
$797 Total income

So, even though her earnings went up by $152 (from $215 to $367), her SSI payment was reduced by only $50 (from $480 to $430) because of the work expense deduction. And her total income now is $797, substantially more than the $545 she had before she started working.

Denni decides that she wants to get a college degree to become a computer analyst. Her sister helps her write a PASS which describes her plans to work and save money for school. Under the plan, she wants to save $75 each month for school. Here’s how the PASS helps her:

$367  Gross earnings
85     Subtract the $85 earnings deduction
$282
52    Subtract work expenses
$230
÷ 2    Divide by 2 to get earnings we count
$115  Earnings we count
75    Subtract PASS
$ 40  Earnings we count

Subtract earnings we count from SSI payment
$545 40

$505   New SSI payment
+ 367  Add monthly earnings
$872   Total income (SSI payment plus earnings)

So even though her earnings continue as high as they were in the previous example, her SSI checks are increased because we don’t have to count the income she is setting aside to go to school. Her total income now is $872 monthly ($367 in earnings plus $505 in SSI).

Part 4: What And How You Should Report To Social Security

Whether you’re receiving Social Security or SSI disability payments, it’s important that you stay in touch with Social Security while you’re working. The people there will be able to help you plan your work effort and to show you how you can use other work incentives to achieve your work goals. You should immediately notify Social Security to report the following:

  • improvement in your health;
  • change in employment status;
  • change of address;
  • change in the number of people in your household;
  • marriage or divorce;
  • change in income;
  • change in savings or investments,
    including selling your home, real estate, car or personal property;
  • change in work expenses;
  • travel outside the United States;
  • development or change in a PASS;
  • or admission to or release from a hospital or other institution.

Also contact Social Security if you start receiving worker’s compensation (including Black Lung) or a public disability benefit or if the amount of these benefits changes.

For More Information

If you have access to the Internet, check our Work Website at www.ssa.gov/work for answers to many of the questions you may have about disability work incentives and other employment supports.

The site contains employment information for people with disabilities, employers, providers, advocates and caregivers. For information on the Ticket Program call MAXIMUS, Inc. at 18669687842 (TTY 18668332967) or see their website at www.yourtickettowork.com.

For other Social Security information, you may visit our website at www.ssa.gov. Or you may call us tollfree at 18007721213, (TTY 18003250778). We can answer specific questions by phone from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on business days and provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day.

We treat all calls confidentially whether they’re made to our tollfree numbers or to one of our local offices. We also want to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some incoming and outgoing telephone calls.

Reprinted From:
Social Security Administration
SSA Publication No. 0510095
March 2002

http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10095.html

The Talk About Sleep Mission: to be a world leader in the sleep field by providing quality information, support and resources to sleep disorder patients, their family, friends and healthcare professionals.

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