Can I Work Without Jeopardizing My Disability Benefits?

Dec 19 2016 - 11:45am

I was recently (and quickly) approved for disability benefits, starting June 2017 (after 5-month waiting period). My disability actually started back in 2013 when I was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, but I continued to (try to) work through surgery, chemo, more surgery, more chemo. During this time, I did manage to earn over $1,130 most months, so my onset date doesn't begin until now. This waiting period is tough, as I have no other income source and am single. So my question is: Can I earn a little income during this five-month period, as long as it's under $1,130? Or does it have to be under $810/month? Or am I not allowed to earn anything at all during this waiting period? And once I start receiving benefits, if I continue to earn less than $810 (or $1,130?)/month, will I jeopardize my benefits (or will this count as my TWP?) I'm really confused about all this. By the way, I'm self-employed.

Hi,

I'm sorry to hear about your health problems.

I know that the work rules are confusing, which also makes them difficult to explain. You could work and earn up to $1130 this month and up to $1170 per month starting January 2017 without jeopardizing your disability entitlement, but you must be very careful not to exceed those limits. Otherwise, your disability approval could be reopened and revised to a disallowance. In that case, you'd have to start the process all over again.

The $810 ($840 in 2017) figure you cite is the trial work level. Your 9-month trial work period can't start until your first month of actual entitlement to disability, which you say is June 2017. So, any work that you perform prior to that won't count toward your trial work period. But, it's critical that you don't go over the 'substantial gainful earnings' (SGA) level of $1130 per month ($1170 per month starting January 2017) during your waiting period.

Once benefits begin and your trial work period is available, you could actually earn over the SGA levels mentioned above for up to 9 months without losing your disability benefits. But, after your 9 trial work months are completed, which don't have to be consecutive by the way, you must stay under the SGA level in order to continue drawing disability benefits. For more information, refer to this pamphlet: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10095.pdf.

By the way, you mention that you have no source of income, so I should mention the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program (https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html). You must have next to no resources (i.e. under $2000 excluding a house and car) to meet the eligibility requirements, so you probably don't qualify. However, SSI is often paid to disabled individuals during their 5-month waiting period for SSDI.

Best, Jerry