There is a common concern among people receiving Social Security disability benefits regarding returning to work. Specifically, many benefit recipients worry whether their Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicaid, or additional benefits will continue each month if they become employed. Considering how employment offers a sense of identity for many people, and many wish to return to work as soon as they can after an injury or illness, it might be useful to know that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has options that allow you to work and keep your benefits following a personal injury.
Re-Entry into the Workforce
While on SSDI, as long as you stay below a certain amount of income each month, you can still work. For 2019, the threshold amount is $880 for a trial work period, but it changes every year. The SSA gives you a trial work period that comprises a total of nine months to earn.
The months do not have to be consecutive. Your trial period ends once you’ve gone over the threshold amount for any nine months over five years. The SSA will then assess your condition and decide whether you still have a disability.
For continued status as “disabled,” you must not be able to engage in any “substantial gainful activity” (SGA), which is work that pays more than the monthly income limit set for the current year and involves productive and significant duties. For 2019, $1,220/per month is SGA for a non-blind, single person. If the SSA determines you still have a disability, you keep your eligibility for 60 months or five years, and you’ll receive benefits as usual for any month that doesn’t exceed the SGA.
Working While Receiving SSI Benefits
SSI is “need-based,” which means your monthly benefit amount could decrease for any work done or supplemental income you bring in. How much you receive in benefits every month and your total finances are considerations when determining the actual benefit amount you receive and eligibility for benefits.
The income you receive from an employer that doesn’t go over the limits of eligibility could cause your SSL payment to decrease because of the standard formula the SSA uses to adjust payments. Employment income exceeding the eligibility limit in any month will not disqualify you from future benefits, but you’ll receive nothing for that month. However, doubling the amount of monthly SSI available will discontinue benefit eligibility, which could eventually lead a person to file for bankruptcy if he or she is unable to sustain their income should their benefits come to an end.
You do not get a trial work period with SSI like with SSDI. That means you can work as long as you want and keep your entitlement to benefits. If you lose SSI and become disabled later on, as long as you’re within the 12-month window from when your payments first ended, you can restart with SSI and not have to apply again.
Programs to Help You Return to Work
For those who rely on Medicaid for healthcare, the idea of losing those benefits by returning to work may cause hesitance. However, with authorization from the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, there are Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) projects all over the country. WIPA’s main objective is to help recipients of Social Security Disability benefits with every element of work, not limited to benefits planning, career development, and job placement.
WIPA has specific personnel designated to help beneficiaries of disability benefits plan their work lives. These dedicated workers are Community Work Incentive Coordinators (CWICs). They help benefit recipients figure out if they qualify for any state and federal work incentive programs.
The coordinators also see to it that those interested get training that is appropriate to their needs and disabilities. The CWICs also gather information about advocacy services and details related to health benefits coverage from the federal government and employers. SSA work incentive and assistance programs include Vocational Rehabilitation and PASS, among others.
Embracing Physical Limitations
If you want to work, but your physical disability prevents a smooth return to a previous field, it can be discouraging — especially if the industry you wish to return to was one in which you spent your entire career trajectory preparing for. One alternative could be working with the non-profit organization the National Telecommuting Institute (NTI), which organized itself as a resource to discover and create work-at-home jobs for physically disabled home-based Americans. NTI also offers sponsored training for job applicants who meet the qualifications.
An alternative is My Employment Options. This service offers vocational services like free job placement for people receiving SSI and SSDI and enrolled in the Ticket to Work program. As you return to work, be sure you understand how workers comp works from your manager’s perspective at your new job, in case you are injured on the job again so that you understand your rights as an employee.
Other options would include searching for home-based jobs in your industry using LinkedIn by searching for telecommuting jobs. You could also contact the vocational rehabilitation agency in your state by reaching out to the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy to get a list of locations. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers telecommuting a reasonable accommodation, an alternative could be to present a work-at-home proposal to your former employer if your previous responsibilities are adaptable to a home base.
Ensuring Adequate Workplace Accommodations
If you have gotten a new job, you may want to request accommodations and disclose your disability to your employer as soon as possible before having to discover difficulties on the job later on. The ADA doesn’t specify a time frame, but having open communication before anything becomes serious could be useful in ensuring you get the tools or accommodations you need. When returning to work, it may behoove you to speak to your employer about your needs and encourage them to adopt more inclusive business processes as well, especially if you find yourself struggling to reintegrate because of unintentional roadblocks placed in your way by your employer.
Although you aren’t required to submit anything in writing, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) recommends writing a letter as documentation of your accommodation request. Some employers may need you to fill out some paperwork they may have for documenting these requests. If you choose to, you could have your medical provider write a letter.
You might not want to disclose to an immediate supervisor, so it’s advised that you share your medical condition or diagnosis with the human resources department. A person in HR will verify your disability according to the ADA, secure the file and keep it confidential.
Working offers a sense of identity for many people and it is often a ticket to financial security. You can take advantage of the incentives and programs offered by the SSA to help you transition back into the workforce. The SSA gives you encouragement to work again with programs like the Ticket to Work, and the Americans with Disabilities Act gives you protection to ensure you have the necessary accommodations while on the job.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and moonlights as a content strategist for an American based marketing company.