Generally, you are able to work on a part-time basis while receiving Social Security disability benefits, but your earnings cannot exceed the specified amount outlined by Social Security every year. This specific amount is known as the “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) limit and if you earn more than this, Social Security will assume you are able to perform a significant amount of work, and you will not be eligible to receive disability benefits any longer. The SGA in 2021 is $1,310 per month.
Social Security will review the amount of money you earn, either while you are applying for benefits or receiving them, but they can also examine the amount of hours you work. For example, you may work and earn less than the SGA limit. However, if you can still work 30 hours a week, it will be more challenging to prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that you are disabled.
Contact Jerome, Salmi & Kopis, LLC today to talk with a lawyer who can help you through the process.
Working During the Application Phase is Risky
It can take months before you are approved for Social Security benefits. The SSA denies the majority of applications every year, and most cases have to go to appeal. During this time, you need money to pay for your daily expenses and so, you may want to work.
If it is not entirely clear and obvious that you qualify for benefits, you may not want to work while applying for benefits. For example, if you need a liver transplant, you may automatically qualify to receive benefits for 12 months. In this case, working may be okay since you will likely not get denied. In many other cases though, working during the application phase could hurt your case.
Although technically you are allowed to make $1,310 or less per month, if you need to work more than a few hours to make that amount, it may not be worthwhile. A judge or claims examiner may determine that you can perform work, which may make it more difficult for them to believe that you are so limited by your medical condition that you are considered completely disabled.
For example, a judge may decide that if you can work part-time at a job that is physically demanding, you could likely work full-time at a job that does not have such challenging duties. Or the judge may decide that you are only working part-time because you cannot find full-time employment, not because of a disability. It is for this reason that many disability attorneys advise their clients to put off working during the application phase.
Can You Work Part-Time After Approval?
Once you begin benefits, the rules about part-time work are slightly different. After you have started Social Security disability insurance (SSI), the SGA limit still technically applies, but there is also what is known as a “trial work period.” The trial work period lasts for nine months and during that time, you are allowed to earn over the SGA limit.
If you receive SSI, the SGA limit will only apply during the first month that you receive benefits. After that first month, the SSI income limit will apply instead. Due to the manner in which income is considered, with over half of it not counting towards the limit, the SSA does not outline an SSI income limit for individuals that work part-time. Still, the more you earn in wages, the lower your SSI payment will be. If you are making more than $1,600, any SSI payment you receive will likely be reduced to zero.
Does the SGA Limit Have Exceptions?
Critics have called the SGA limit arbitrary and unfair. For example, if a person earns the federal minimum wage, they can work up to 32 hours every week, and their wages will be below the SGA limit. On the other hand, a person that makes significantly more than that, such as $40 per hour, may only work five hours every week before they no longer qualify for benefits.
Truthfully, SSA will consider a number of factors that may affect the value of a person’s work that could determine whether or not the person is engaging in work activity at the SGA level, even if the person is earning more than the monthly earnings limit.
For example, Social Security has an obligation to investigate whether a person is being paid appropriately for the type of work they are performing. They can also consider that certain employers subsidize disabled workers by paying them full wages despite the fact the worker cannot perform up to the value of that wage due to their disability. If an employer thinks a worker’s performance to be worth half of the wage they are earning, Social Security may only count half of the amount of wages towards the SGA limit.
Likewise, certain employers will allow disabled workers to have special considerations for work that cause the employer to incur additional costs. These costs can be deducted from the employee’s wage when the true value of their work is being determined. In fact, any work expense that is impairment-related can be subtracted from the employee’s wages to determine their monthly work amount.
Social Security generally finds a person to be disabled if they cannot sustain full-time work on a regular basis. However, if the work performed before submitting an application for disability was only done on a part-time basis, and Social Security believes you can still perform this type of work, they may deny your claim.
Call Our Disability Lawyers in Illinois and Missouri Today
Disability benefits are available for those who cannot work full-time, but they are not easy to obtain. At the Law Office of Jerome Salmi Kopis, LLC, our Missouri and Illinois disability lawyers can advise on the specifics of your case and give you the best chance of receiving the benefits you need during this difficult time. Call us today at (618) 726-2222 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about how we can help.
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