In general, you can earn up to the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold without affecting your SSDI benefits. The SGA threshold changes annually and typically increases slightly over time. As of 2023, the monthly SGA amount was $1,470 for most individuals and $2,460 for those who are considered legally blind.
However, earning more than the SGA threshold won’t result in an immediate loss of benefits. The SSA offers a Ticket to Work program that can help you test your ability to reenter the workforce without putting your benefits at risk.
How the Ticket to Work Program Helps You Return to Work Without Losing Your Disability Benefits
Since qualifying for disability can be a time-consuming and frustrating process, it makes sense that you would want to ensure that you do not do anything to jeopardize your benefits. If you are worried that you might need benefits again later or have concerns about finding stable employment, Disability Services of America can provide you with a free consultation to ensure that you understand how you can use the Ticket to Work program to achieve your career goals.
The Ticket to Work Program is a resource that is available to people on SSI and SSDI. Disability Services of America offers the following Ticket to Work Services:
- Career counseling
- Benefits counseling
- Goal development
- Completing your Individualized Work Plan (IWP)
- Navigating your rights under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Labor market research
- Job placement and development
- Employment support
During the time when you are involved in Ticket to Work, you will not undergo medical reviews as long as you are making timely progress toward your plan to return to work.
Do I Qualify for Ticket to Work?
There are several criteria that you must meet, in order to be eligible for Ticket to Work:
- Desire to return to work, but need help to do so
- Receiving SSDI or SSDI and SSI payments
- Not currently appealing a medical cessation decision
- Not an adult whose disability was awarded under childhood disability standards
- Not granted expedited reinstatement of temporary benefits
- Not receiving advance payments for presumptive blindness or disability currently
While there are differences in the rules for SSI and SSDI recipients, one key thing that they share in common is that you will need to inform the Social Security Administration (SSA) when you return to work, if your work changes substantially, and if you stop working.
Is Ticket to Work a Good Fit for Me?
It is important to consider your unique circumstances when deciding if the Ticket to Work program is right for you. Let’s look at some questions you might want to ask yourself as you’re evaluating the pros and cons of reentering the workforce.
Do You Want to Work Full-Time but Worry That You Could Lose Your Benefits?
Disability Services of America’s staff are available to help you through the Ticket to Work Program, and they can answer any questions you might have, about what activities could cause your benefits to end.
Do You Need Help Ensuring All of Your Paperwork Is Submitted Accurately and on Time?
The various forms that SSA requires before a person returns to work can be confusing and difficult to keep track of, while also undergoing the major life change of returning to work. Our staff has experience completing and submitting these forms and can ensure that every detail is handled correctly.
Has It Been a While Since You Worked?
You might feel like your skills for applying for jobs, interviewing, and maintaining employment have gotten a little rusty. Disability Services of America can help you brush up in any areas where you need help.
Are You Concerned That You Could Lose Your Insurance?
Worries about losing your health insurance might also be a reason you aren’t sure about returning to work. If you have Medicare and you are able to return to work but are still disabled, you will keep free Medicare Part A for at least 93 months after the nine-month trial work period. You may be able to buy it after that for a monthly premium. Medicare Part B coverage would continue to require a premium. Our team can explain the particulars as they relate to your situation.
If you have Medicaid, you may continue to be covered even if your SSI payments stop, as long as:
- You still have a disability.
- You wouldn’t be able to keep working without Medicaid.
- You aren’t able to afford similar insurance without SSI.
- You meet the other requirements for SSI.
Are You Worried That the Work You Do Will Cause SSA to Over-Estimate Your Ability Support Yourself Financially?
During the time that you are involved in Ticket to Work, you will not be required to participate in a Continuing Disability Review (CDR), so the progress you are making while in the program will not count against your ability to keep your benefits.
What to Expect During the Trial Work Period
The SSA allows people a trial work period to test their ability to maintain employment. During this time, you will continue to have your full benefits, regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your income and continue to have a disability.
Any month when you earn more than $1,050 (after business expenses if you are self-employed) counts as a trial work month in 2023, as well as any month where you work more than 80 hours for your own business.
The trial period continues until you have had more than nine months of trial work within 60 months. The nine months do not have to be consecutive.
Entering the Period of Extended Period of Eligibility
Once you have had nine months of trial work, you will enter a three-year period of extended eligibility. During the extended period of eligibility, you will receive benefits in any month that you do not meet the substantial gainful activity threshold without needing a new application or disability decision.
Because SSDI is based on a person’s previously earned income and contributions to social security and SSI is purely need-based, the income threshold is lower for SSI. A person on SSI must earn under $794 per month to maintain eligibility in 2023.
How the Grace Period Affects Your Benefits
As long as you are earning less than the SGA amount, you will receive a three-month grace period on all benefits after the trial work period has concluded.
Using PASS to Cover Work-Related Expenses
There may be disability-related expenses that you have to cover in order to return to work. You are allowed to save money for things that will help you regain your self-sufficiency under a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) without this money counting as part of your current income. Some qualifying expenses under PASS include:
- Transportation to and from your job
- Tuition, books, fees, etc. in order to learn the skills to enter a new field
- Child care
- Employment services like job coaching and resume writing
- Assistive technology
- Supplies needed to start your own business
- Uniforms, special clothing, or safety equipment needed for the job
- Equipment and tools of the profession
Asking for an Expedited Reinstatement
You may wonder what would happen if everything is going well, you are able to earn enough money to surpass the SGA threshold consistently, and you no longer need SSDI or SSI, but then something goes wrong and you aren’t able to keep working any longer. In the unfortunate event that this were to occur, you would have five years from the end of your benefits to ask for an expedited reinstatement. This would mean that you could ask the SSA to restart your financial benefits without a long wait or a new application. Should you find yourself in this position, Disability Services of America would be able to assist with the process of restarting your benefits.