Can I work and get SSDI benefits?
Whether or not you can work and receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a complicated question. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not award benefits to claimants who are performing substantial gainful activity (SGA) or who they believe are able to perform SGA work.
If you apply for SSDI benefits, and you are making too much money or working too many hours, your SSDI application will be automatically denied.
Substantial Gainful Activity Defined
Whether or not you can work and receive SSDI depends on whether the SSA decides that your work is “substantial gainful activity.” Substantial gainful activity can be divided into work that is substantial and work that is gainful.
For example, if you are working and earning $1,170 as a non-blind, disabled applicant, the SSA will determine that you are fully employed and engaged in work, and will automatically deny your claim.
But what if you are working part-time or making less than the allowable amount? The SSA will determine whether your work is “substantial.” For example, if you are working 20 or 30 hours per week for pay or for profit, the SSA will determine whether they believe you could work a few more hours. If they decide that you can, they will deny your claim.
If the work that you are performing is volunteer work and you are not receiving pay, you could still be denied benefits. In this case, the SSA may decide that your volunteer work is comparable to other work that is done for pay or profit and you are not disabled.
Bottom line: if the SSA concludes that your work is either substantial or gainful, they will deny your SSDI disability application, claiming that you are able to work and you are not disabled.
Applying for Benefits While Working
Claimants also wonder whether or not they can wait to quit work until they have received benefits. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, if you are working and making too much money when you apply for SSDI benefits, your disability application will automatically be denied.
Unfortunately, this requirement causes extreme consternation for many workers who lack the funds to quit work and who must wait months or years to have their disability application approved. Workers might also quit work, apply for benefits, and then find out that their disability application is never approved for SSDI.
The SSA believes that if you are truly disabled, however, then you do not have the ability to work. In their minds, there would never be a question about whether or not you can work and apply for benefits. You are either disabled and cannot work or you are not disabled and can work.
Unfortunately, there are millions of Americans who may be capable of working part-time but cannot work full-time. The SSDI program does not currently address this population. Therefore, these claimants have two options: work very part-time and apply for SSDI benefits, or stop working completely and apply for SSDI.
Claimants in this position must also be very careful of lowering their wages too drastically by working very part-time for months or years. Because the disability payment calculation uses a claimant’s average wage to determine their disability benefits, working very part-time for an extended period of time can significantly lower a claimant’s monthly benefit.
How do I support myself and not work?
So if you cannot work and make too much money when you apply for SSDI benefits, how are you going to support yourself? This is a great question, especially considering that you may wait months or years to receive SSDI benefits.
Many applicants have spouses who work and offer some support during the application process. Other SSDI applicants anticipate the long wait and begin saving their income months in advance of applying. Still, others may rely on their family and friends for support, use their credit cards for purchases, or generate high debts over the wait.
Recommendations vary. Ideally, disability applicants would have up to one year of emergency savings that they could use to support themselves during the application process. While most disability applicants struggle through the application process, the good news is that if an applicant is approved for benefits, they will generally receive back pay.
Can I work after I start receiving SSDI benefits?
If you are receiving SSDI benefits and you decide that you are interested in returning to work, you need to contact the SSA. The SSA has implemented several programs to encourage workers to return to work, but there are very specific rules about how much you can work and how much money you can earn before your benefits are terminated.
If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI, not SSDI), there are separate rules for work and how it will affect your income. SSI recipients may work part-time, but their income must be reported, and it can potentially reduce their monthly SSI benefit. Keep in mind that if you are receiving SSI benefits, and you make too much money and fail to report your income, you may owe the SSA money.