Social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits that are paid based on a detailed medical record review are a major source of income for disabled Americans who are forced to stay away from their jobs due to the disability or illness. A common misconception among some people is that obtaining SSDI is a decision to quit working for good. The SSA’s (Social Security Administration’s) Ticket to Work program can enable you to start working and earning again, without foregoing the disability benefits you may still need. In fact, the Ticket to Work Program has been specifically created to help people with disabilities earn more than their minimal SSDI benefit and get them back on the road of financial independence.
When you inform the SSA that you want to try to go back to work, they would assign you a trial period. You will be able to work for a period of nine months while still retaining your eligibility for SSDI benefits. The amount of benefits paid will be adjusted based on the amount you earn through working. In case you return to work and later find out that you are unable to continue working due to your disability, you don’t have to re-qualify for the disability benefits and will be automatically placed back on the SSDI or other disability programs you had qualified for previously.
Here are some major things to understand about the SSA’s Ticket to Work (TTW) program.
- TWP or Trial Work Period: This period refers to the nine months for which you can retain your SSDI benefits while testing your ability to perform meaningful work.
- ENs or Employment Networks: There are more than 600 ENs across the United States, each offering a range of free support services through the TTW program. Some of these networks assist specific populations and others provide specialized support services. ENs can address issues such as improving energy and stamina for a full-time job, discussing job availability with employers, and complying with SSA’s reporting processes to safeguard your benefits for the long-term.
- EPE or Extended Period of Eligibility: This is the 36 months that protect your SSDI benefits after the Ticket to Work Program. You receive full SSDI benefits for the first 3 months, and then 33 months of receiving SSDI benefits for any month your earnings from work drop below a certain level. This year (2018) this SGA (Substantial Gainful Activity) level is $1,180 per month for non-blind beneficiaries and $1,970 per month for blind beneficiaries.
- Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits: If you become unable to work again within 5 years following the 36-month EPE, you can request to have your disability benefits restarted without filing a new application.
- Continuing Medicare Coverage: Medicare coverage continues up to 93 consecutive months or more than 7 years after the 9-month TWP ends. This holds true even if your SSDI payments end during this period.
- CDR (Continuing Disability Review) Protection: Everyone who receives SSDI benefits are subjected to a review by Social Security to evaluate their medical condition after some time has passed. Those who use TTW are exempt from this review and their status remains unchanged.
When thinking of returning to work, consider what tasks you can and cannot perform with your disability. Also, consider whether you have any transportation issues or physical limitations that need to be accommodated. When working, these issues must be discussed with your supervisor or HR department. Honest and respectful communication will ensure a positive outcome for everyone. Another important thing to consider is whether you need retraining or additional education for the job you are planning to undertake.
The SSA’s disability benefit program ensures that compensation is given only to deserving applicants and for this they rely on a fair and comprehensive medical records analysis that helps establish the disability or illness. The Administration expects disability recipients to stay compliant with all rules and regulations at all times. Disabled beneficiaries returning to work must stay in regular touch with the SSA during their trial period. They must take note of difficulties their disability is causing them in returning to work and ensure that these are clearly recorded. They should also keep the SSA informed of what they are doing. Returning to work without notifying the SSA of the same and continuing to receive SSDI benefits could lead to heavy penalties and consequences. Also, if you return to work and find that your benefits are not reduced, notify the SSA immediately. Make sure that the additional amount you receive is not spent because you may have to return it sooner or later. It is best to keep the extra amount in a separate savings account until the SSA requests you to repay the overpayment or until you receive notice in writing that you don’t have to.