At QuatriniRafferty, we are frequently asked by our clients receiving Social Security Disability if they can return to work, and if so, what they can earn and remain eligible for Social Security benefits. In general, those receiving Social Security Disability benefits may be able to earn some small amount without impacting their benefits.
However, any work activity can raise issues with future benefits in that the Social Security Administration sometimes translates limited work activity into the ability to return to full-time work.
Social Security provides a trial work period in which an individual can test their ability to work for at least 9 months. During a trial work period, individuals will receive full Social Security benefits regardless of the amount they earn as long as they report all work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment. This process allows a person who would like to return to work the opportunity to give it a try without jeopardizing current benefits.
In 2011, a “trial work month” is any month in which an individual earns $720 or more (or if an individual is self-employed, earns more than $720 after business expenses and spends more than 80 hours in their business). The trial work period continues until the person has worked 9 months within a 60-month period. If an individual earns less than $720 per month, that month is not counted as one of the 9 months of trial work. Again, this does not mean that an individual can earn under $720 per month without an impact on benefits. The Social Security Administration periodically reviews individuals for continued eligibility for benefits. Those individuals that are working but earning under the $720 limit are still at risk for being found “not disabled” by the Social Security Administration on a continuing review basis.
Additionally, there are separate rules for those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. For example, you may face an offset for every dollar that you will earn if you attempt to work.
Each situation is unique. Our best advice to those attempting to return to work would be to consult with our Social Security attorneys first.