How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

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Artwork: Robin Mead

I am not an expert on working and Social Security. However I do know a few little rules and regs that may help you out if you are considering going back to work while on disability. Hope these help.

WORKING

💮 You are allowed to work and earn up to $1,170 per month and still be considered disabled.

💮 There are some work incentive programs that will allow you to earn a higher amount.

💮 You must report to Social Security when you start working. It is a good idea to notify them in writing and send it by certified mail or bring it to your local office and get a stamped receipt.

MEDICAL REVIEWS

💮 If you call Social Security or read online or talk to work incentive programs, you will be told you are allowed to work.

💮 It is true! You are allowed! However, this does not mean you will have no problems with Social Security. I have met many people who followed all the rules and still ran into difficulties.

💮 If your condition is better and you are planning to go back to work full-time and transition off benefits, that is wonderful! See below for programs that can help.

💮 If you are still disabled, and need to stay on disability, Social Security does allow people to stay on disability benefits while working. However, some people report that it is more difficult to pass medical reviews. To work and receive disability your medical records must show that you still have severe symptoms, your condition is not improved, and you are unable to work full time because of your disability.

💮 I have met some people who are on disability while working part-time and have absolutely no problems with Social Security. These people often have excellent medical records and strong support from doctors. Their doctor and records make it clear that their condition has not improved and they are medically unable to work full-time. Learn more about records for medical reviews: How to Prepare for a Medical Review.

💮 Social Security may consider if the type of work you do indicates an improvement in your condition. For example, if someone is approved for back problems and then gets a job lifting boxes, this may be considered an indication of improvement. Another example, if someone is approved based on problems with memory, focus and concentration and then gets a job requiring focus and concentration, this may be considered an indication of improvement.

PASS PLANS

💮 PASS plans are designed to help you start a business or go back to work with the goal of going off disability benefits.

💮 If you are working and on SSI, Social Security will allow you to put your work income in a PASS. PASS plan stops your SSI check from being lowered, even if you earn income from working.

💮 If you are working and on SSDI, the Social Security regulations will allow you to put all of your work income plus all of your SSDI into a PASS plan, and then apply for SSI. If you qualify for SSI, Social Security will increase your disability payments up to the maximum SSI amount: an additional $735 per month. The Office of Inspector General did a report on this program last year and found that it was not very effective since many people were creating PASS plans and collecting extra benefits, but then not transitioning back to full-time work. The purpose of this program is to transition back to full-time work and go off disability benefits.

IDAS

💮 IDA programs are designed to help you save money for a new business, first house or going to school.

💮 IDA programs can provide matching funds. I met one person who put in $500 and got back $2,000! She start a business selling her art and used the money to buy art supplies.

💮 If you are working and on SSI, Social Security will allow you to put your work income into an IDA. IDA plans may stop your SSI check from being lowered. Some IDA programs will stop your SSI check from being lowered and some will not. Please research carefully.

DISABILITY CHECK

💮 If you are on SSDI, your check will not be lowered.

💮 If you are on SSI, you can earn $65 per month without affecting your check. After that your check will usually be lowered by $1 for every $2 you earn. Your check will not be lowered if you have a PASS plan or some IDA plans (see above)

💮 If you are self-employed or own a small business. They will consider your income after your business expenses. In some cases, this means your check will not be lowered.

💮 If you are on SSI, and you start earning income, it is likely that at some point Social Security is going to make a mistake, pay you too much money, and then want some money back. This has happened to nearly everyone I have ever met who was on SSI and started working. Learn more: How Sandra Got Her Overpayments Waived

GOING OFF DISABILITY

💮 If you are planning to go back to work and go off disability benefits, you may be helped by looking into a Ticket to Work program and other work incentives. Your local Vocational Rehabilitation program may also be able to help. If you are on SSDI, also look into Trial Work Periods. It is possible to keep your benefits and health insurance while you make the transition.

STAYING ON DISABILITY

💮 If you are planning to go back to work and you are still disabled and you are not able to work full time and go off disability benefits: Some people suggest to learn about the pros and cons of Ticket to Work and other programs before making any decisions. Most people I have met who used these programs wound up having trouble with their disability benefits and medical reviews. Once again, here’s How to Prepare for a Medical Review

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