Working and SSD/SSI

People receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits frequently believe that they are unable to earn additional money while receiving SSD. And it makes sense to some degree - if a person is eligible to receive disability benefits, should he or she be working?

SSD and Work

Nevertheless, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does allow beneficiaries to work and continue to receive benefits under some circumstances. The thinking behind this feature of SSD benefits is that it will lessen dependency and possibly open up opportunities that will allow beneficiaries to stop receiving SSD entirely.

The work incentive program continues to provide cash benefits while the beneficiary determines whether he or she will be able to work -- by actually working. The program also provides Medicaid or Medicare coverage while beneficiaries are experimenting with work and offers career assistance and training to prepare beneficiaries for returning to the workforce. The second SSD work program is known as Ticket to Work. This provides in-depth vocational training, job referrals and other types of employment support.

How do these programs work? The work incentive program allows beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months. During this trial period, they continue to receive their full SSD benefits. The nine months can be spread over five years, and any month in which recipients earn more than $780 is considered a trial month. After the nine-month trial period, beneficiaries can work for up to 36 months and still receive benefits for any month where earnings are not "substantial." In 2015, this means earnings greater than $1,090.

If your benefits stop because you are earning more than the threshold amount ($1,090), you can request that your benefits resume within five years if you become unable to work again. No new application or review period is required. Additionally, if your benefits stop because of your "substantial" earnings, you can continue to receive Medicare Part A for 93 months after the nine-month trial period.

Although the earnings threshold for receiving benefits after the nine-month trial period is $1,090, the SSA deducts certain documented expenses such as special transportation, durable medical devices such as wheelchairs or scooters and counseling costs. These expenses could lower your net earnings to the point where you could continue to receive SSD benefits. In short, even if your wages exceed the threshold amount, deductions of expenses not required by nondisabled workers could lower your income to the point where SSD benefits continue.

The Ticket to Work program is designed to prepare beneficiaries to re-enter the workforce and earn more money than they would receive if they remained on SSD. The program provides free employment services that help you prepare to work, find a job and be successful while working. The services include vocational rehabilitation, career counseling, job placement and training. These services are provided by state vocational rehab agencies or authorized employment networks.

Working and SSI

If you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and think you might be able to work, there is a program to help you, known as Plan to Achieve Self-Support, or PASS. The PASS program allows participants to set aside money from their SSI benefits for training, education, equipment or other expenses involved in entering the workforce or starting a business. They must develop a plan with cost estimates for the items they will need to become more self-sufficient, and the Social Security Administration, which administers SSI, must approve the plan.

Like SSD, the SSI program also allows recipients to try working without participating in a formal plan such as PASS. The threshold after which benefits stop or decline differs from state to state. In most cases, Medicaid coverage will continue. Similarly, if you try working and find that you are unable to continue, you will not have to reapply for SSI. Finally, you should be able to deduct expenses associated with working such as transportation, equipment or counseling.

SSI reduces benefits by 50 cents for every dollar earned over the threshold amount. The program also ignores the first $85 of earnings. This means that if you work, your benefits decline in proportion to the amount you earn. You will not be cut off from benefits entirely and your income will always be greater if you work than if you do not work.

This information is a brief overview of the work incentive and preparation programs available to beneficiaries of SSD and SSI. However, the details and requirements of the programs are much more complex, and it is important to fully understand how working will affect you and your benefits.

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