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Getting Back to Work While Receiving Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

Getting Back to Work SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) as well as SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits that are granted and continued on the basis of a medical records review provide various work incentive programs that allow recipients to try and get back to work. Among these programs are continuing Medicare/Medicaid coverage, continuing cash benefits, vocational training and reimbursement of expenses for modifications or equipment to accommodate the person’s disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) encourages trial work programs because they allow disabled persons who may be hesitant to go back to work due to fear of losing their benefits. It is very important to inform the SSA when the person returns to work.

Informing the SSA in a Timely Manner

The SSA directives are that a disability recipient should tell them right away if:

  • One starts or stops work
  • One already reported for work, but his/her duties, hours or wages have changed
  • One starts paying for expenses that he/she needs for work due to their disability.

When the changes in work activity are reported, the SSA will provide a receipt to verify that the disability recipient has properly fulfilled his/her obligation to report. This receipt is to be kept carefully with all other important papers from the Social Security. The SSA also advises to save all paystubs so that they can verify the monthly earnings and any deductions from earnings that may be allowed.

Returning to Work Encouraged by Statesmen

Statesmen also encourage disability recipients to return to work. Recently, Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced legislation that would encourage SS recipients who have recovered from an injury or illness to return to work. This is viewed as a measure to save Social Security from bankruptcy. The Return to Work Act of 2017 would require disability determiners to classify new beneficiaries based on whether medical improvement is expected. Those beneficiaries who are expected to recover would be given a timeline and additional resources to obtain employment while still on disability benefits. If they do not recover, they would also be able to reapply. Those beneficiaries who are not expected to recover will have no timeline for participating in the program. Rubio pointed out that rampant abuse, lax enforcement and insufficient accountability have enabled the program to grow unchecked and prevented many people from going back to work. Along with Senators Tom Cotton from Arkansas and Mike Lee from Utah who support the move, he drew attention to the fact that the SSDI program has grown more than six times from $20 to $137 billion since 1970. The trio believe that real reforms are needed that will make it easier for recovering Americans to return to work and also make the program solvent.

SSA’s Continuing Disability Reviews

The SSA conducts disability reviews to determine whether the beneficiary is improving.

  • The SSA will review the disability recipient’s case periodically to find out if their condition has medically improved, or if they can perform substantial gainful activity (SGA).
  • The SSA will also review the beneficiary’s case if they receive information that the beneficiary may have medically improved.
  • No review will be made for a beneficiary who has received SSDI benefits for at least 24 months just because he/she is working.
  • For an SSI beneficiary, the SSA may review the case if the beneficiary works and is eligible for Medicaid While Working, or if there are changes in his/her work status. They will not review the case more often than once a year.
  • The SSA will not perform a review to see if the beneficiary’s condition has medically improved while he/she is using a Ticket to Work.

Disability recipients must respond to all review requests in a timely manner and provide any necessary documentation that may be needed for medical chart review. They may also, in some cases, have to meet with an independent physician arranged by the SSA for a medical examination.

When the Benefits Could Continue

If a person goes back to work and starts earning a substantial income, SSDI benefits could stop, and he/she may be entitled to Social Security Retirement Benefits once they reach the age of 65. For those returning to work, the benefits will not cease straightaway. They can earn income on a trial basis for up to nine months before the benefits are revoked.

SSDI benefits may continue in the following scenarios.

  • If the SSA stops the disability benefits due to the person’s work at the SGA level, and then the earnings fall below the SGA within the Extended Period of Eligibility.
  • If the SSA stops the disability benefits due to medical improvement and the person is participating in a program of vocational rehabilitation or similar services.

For SSI recipients, if the SSA stops their benefits due to medical improvement, the benefits may continue if he/she is participating in a program of vocational rehabilitation or similar services, employment services, or other support services. The SSI payment will not be given for any months that the beneficiary does not meet the non-disability eligibility requirements such as the income or resources tests.

Social security disability benefits can remain in effect as long as a person is disabled, or until they reach the age of 65. Once they reach the age of 65, disability benefits cease and retirement benefits start.

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