This is a very important issue that comes with many questions: How do I survive while waiting for my claim to be approved? Can I work at all? Or just a little bit? Will working affect my case and make me ineligible for either Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?
In this post, we’re going to break down the basics of what you need to know. The rules are quite complicated, however, and you really should speak with an attorney to learn how the rules apply to your situation. It is always best to consult with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance at being approved for benefits.
Step 1: Understanding the Meaning of “Substantial Gainful Activity”
If one is engaging in what is called “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) at the time they apply, the claim can be denied for that reason.
As defined in Social Security’s regulations, Substantial Gainful Activity means work that
involves doing significant and productive physical or mental duties and is done (or intended) for pay or profit. Work may be substantial even if it is done on a part-time basis or if you do less, get paid less, or have less responsibility than when you worked before.
Note also that the regulations make clear that gainful work activity is done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized. Generally, though, Social Security does not consider activities like taking care of yourself, household tasks, hobbies, therapy, school attendance, club activities, or social programs to be SGA.
Step 2: Learning about SGA in Relation to Different SSA Programs
There are two programs for disability benefits that are offered by the SSA, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Each of these programs works differently in terms of your ability to engage in SGA.
For 2022, the dollar amount used to determine whether an employee is engaging in SGA is $1,350 per month before taxes. For self-employed individuals, the $1,350/month amount is used, but not exclusively.
SSI is a disability program based upon financial need. If you have earned or unearned income over certain levels, you will not receive benefits. The SSI program’s rules are not applied the same as in the SSDI program.
Also, the rules regarding returning to work differ between the SSDI and SSI programs. These differences are one of many reasons why working with a lawyer can be so helpful when applying. You can see SSA’s Red Book concerning some of those differences at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-64-030.pdf. The official name of The Red Book is A SUMMARY GUIDE TO EMPLOYMENT SUPPORTS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES UNDER THE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY INSURANCE (SSDI) AND SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME (SSI) PROGRAMS.
Step 3: If You Are Working
As mentioned above, working while waiting for Social Security Disability approval is possible, but potentially problematic. It does depend upon whether you are engaging in SGA as well as when you are engaging in SGA. For example, within the first 12 months after the onset of your disability. And even if you are not engaging in SGA, SSA still can consider your work activity in determining your residual functional capacity.
Any changes must be reported
Since work and income are so central to your ability to qualify for benefits, it is vital that you notify the SSA if you experience any changes after you have applied and while you are waiting for their decision.
Changes that need to be reported include:
- Stopping work or starting a new job
- Changes to hours, duties, or pay
- Impairment-Related Work Expenses that you start paying due to your disability
There are multiple ways to report these changes. You can do so in person, over the phone, or by mail to your local SSA office. Also, SSA may have an app for this.
So, Should You Work While Waiting for SSDI and SSI?
You can, but there are many concerns involved and you should address this issue with the attorney representing you in your claim. The rules are involved and complicated and you do not want to hurt your chances at qualifying for benefits.
Essentially, you’re walking a tightrope – which is why so many people tell me how grateful they are for the help I provide them in navigating this confusing area of the law. If you would like help to give yourself the best chance at receiving disability benefits, or just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.