Many Illinois residents who receive Social Security Disability would rather work than rely entirely on benefits. However, the risk of benefit loss can be a deterrent for individuals who cannot work enough to support themselves. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration permits limited work and even offers programs to help benefit recipients resume working.
To qualify for SSD benefits, an individual cannot engage in “substantial gainful activity.” This is work with income exceeding $1,070 per month. The SSA makes an exception for blind individuals, who can earn up to $1,800. Individuals who exceed these limits when applying for disability benefits will not be approved.
Under certain circumstances, however, benefit recipients may exceed these limits without losing benefits. The SSA deducts work-related expenses the disability causes from the recipient’s income and only considers this adjusted income. Such expenses could include special transportation, prescriptions or counseling that the individual needs to perform a given job.
The SSA may also consider whether an individual’s employer is taking on extra expenses by providing accommodations or subsidizing the employee’s wages. Individuals may receive benefits if the “true value” of their work falls below the SGA threshold.
Besides these allowances, the SSA offers special programs for people who want to test their ability to resume SGA.
SSD benefit recipients may engage in nine-month trial work periods. During these periods, individuals receive benefits regardless of their earnings. Recipients must still meet the SSA definition of disabled and inform the SSA of changes in income. If an employee earns over $770 in a month, the SSA views the month as part of the trial period. For self-employed people, trial periods begin when net earnings exceed $770 or total hours worked exceed 80.
If a benefit recipient ultimately resumes SGA, the SSA offers various short-term allowances. These include:
- A 36-month period of benefits eligibility. If the individual’s earnings fall below the SGA threshold during any month, the SSA automatically disburses benefits.
- A 5-year period of rapid benefit reinstatement. Individuals can notify the SSA if they no longer can work, and the SSA will reinstate benefits without a new application or medical review.
- A 93-month period of Medicare coverage. Individuals receive free Part A coverage and can pay to maintain Part B coverage.
If a recipient loses his or her job during the trial period or 36-month period, the SSA will reinstate benefits.
The SSA makes additional allowances for blind individuals. When these people return to SGA, the SSA “freezes” their earnings records. Any income earned does not count toward future benefits. This allows blind individuals to collect benefits later based on their most profitable employment periods, rather than the reduced income they earned while disabled.