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Can I Work While Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits?

Living Well

February 06, 2024

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Photo of Kathy Reagan/

Photo of Kathy Reagan/

by Kathy Reagan Young

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Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ

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by Kathy Reagan Young

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Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ

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•••••

You can still have a job with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Here’s what you need to know.

I get this question all the time, and I understand why. Living with a chronic illness presents many challenges, and for many, financial concerns are among the most pressing.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides a financial safety net for those of us living with a chronic condition that makes it hard to work and, therefore, hard to make money. But SSDI payments won’t make you rich. In fact, they may not even cover your bills.

I’m here to let you know it’s possible to explore employment and earn money while still qualifying for SSDI — you just need to know how to navigate the system.

In this month’s Patients Getting Paid column, I’ll explain what you need to know about work, earnings, and SSDI benefits to make the most of them.

What are SSDI work incentives?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes how important it is to empower people living with disabilities to reenter the workforce.

Work can be incredibly valuable for our mental, emotional, and financial health by adding structure, purpose, and productivity to our lives. Having a sense of purpose while contributing to our own or our family’s budget can have positive effects on our health.

Maybe you previously stopped working and enrolled in SSDI but now feel better, stronger, and more able to take on a job.

Well, the SSA has created several work incentive policies to encourage us to explore employment opportunities.

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Understanding SSDI work incentive policies

It’s important to be familiar with SSDI work incentive policies, which are filled with legal jargon that makes them harder to understand. Here are the most important terms to know:

Trial work period

A trial work period (TWP) lets you test whether you can work for at least 9 months without losing your full SSDI benefits. During this time, you can earn money, and it won’t affect your disability status, according to the SSA.

For a TWP, the SSA only considers work done for at least 9 months (not necessarily consecutively) in any 60-month period. 

Substantial gainful activity

Let’s say you pick up a new job using a TWP to see whether the type and amount of work is right for you. Well, the SSA will compare the income you earn during your TWP with the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount to determine whether you’re still eligible for benefits.

If you earn more income than the monthly SGA amount, it may affect your benefit eligibility. The SGA amount changes every year and varies for different disabilities, so it’s important to know the numbers — exceeding it may disqualify you from receiving disability benefits.

Extended period of eligibility

After your TWP, there’s another safety net called the extended period of eligibility (EPE). During this time, you can still receive benefits if your monthly earnings fall below the monthly SGA amount.

The EPE is especially helpful for those of us dealing with the ups and downs of chronic conditions. If your ability to work is affected, this policy ensures you have support when you need it.

Continuing disability review

Being employed through a TWP with an EPE also has another benefit: It protects you from having continuing disability reviews (CDRs) with the SSA. CDRs are annoying medical reviews that evaluate whether or not you still have a disabling condition.

Luckily, with SSDI work incentive policies, you can focus on work without worrying about disrupting or losing your benefits based on a technicality.

Strategies for successful employment

Here are some other factors to consider when you’re looking to take on a job.

Explore remote and flexible work opportunities

Before the pandemic, most employers wouldn’t hire employees who work from home. But these days, many employers embrace flexibility and recognize the value it brings to employees.

The shift in favor of remote work has opened many opportunities for people living with chronic illnesses. Plus, it allows companies to hire from a bigger pool of great candidates.

Consider part-time or freelance work

Rather than diving into full-time employment, consider freelance jobs and working part-time. These options give you more management of your workload and hours so you can avoid overextending yourself. Plus, it’ll reduce your risk of exceeding the monthly SGA amount.

If you’re looking for a side hustle to earn extra income, you can also check out my Bezzy article on finding side hustles and avoiding scams.

Take advantage of free support programs

The SSA’s Ticket to Work program is a valuable resource. The program offers support, training, and guidance to help you return to work, so you don’t have to navigate these policies alone. The Ticket to Work program can also connect you with a network of employers and vocational rehabilitation agencies.

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Challenges and other considerations

Returning to work can be empowering. However, it’s also important to be aware of the challenges:

  • Reporting requirements: Accurate and timely reporting of your earnings to the SSA is crucial. If your earning reports are inaccurate or late, it may lead to overpayments or other complications. Before you start a new job, familiarize yourself with reporting procedures and keep detailed records of your work-related activities.
  • Health fluctuations: Chronic conditions can be unpredictable. Having a flexible job allows you to adjust your hours and responsibilities when you need to care for your health.
  • Financial planning: Understand how returning to work will affect your finances. Consider whether earnings will affect your SSDI benefits and other assistance programs, like Medicaid or Medicare.
  • Healthcare coverage: Having access to healthcare is essential for us. Consider whether returning to work will affect your healthcare coverage and explore other options if so.
  • Self-care: Balancing work with a chronic illness requires self-care. Be sure to rest, take breaks, and communicate openly with employers about your health challenges. Be sure to ask for necessary accommodations.

The bottom line

The decision to work while collecting SSDI is personal. While the process may seem daunting, SSDI work incentives and support programs empower us to explore meaningful work.

Navigating the delicate balance between work, earnings, and disability benefits requires careful consideration, open communication with employers, and a commitment to self-care.

And remember, you’re not alone. The Bezzy community understands and is here for you.

Kathy Reagan, creator of the FUMS website and podcast, founded Patients Getting Paid in 2021. Her mission is to help people with chronic illness find and create work that accommodates their health and generates income. In this Patients Getting Paid column, she shares advice, resources, and stories to help others navigate the world of work while living with a chronic illness.

Do you have a question or concern about work and your chronic illness? Please reach out to me at Kathy@PatientsGettingPaid.com and I’ll select questions to answer in this column.

Fact checked on February 06, 2024

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About the author

Kathy Reagan Young

Kathy Reagan Young is a prominent patient advocate and the founder of two innovative organizations, FUMSnow.com and PatientsGettingPaid.com. She has become a leading voice in patient advocacy, driven by her personal experience with multiple sclerosis and having founded the Patients Getting Paid membership community to help people with chronic illness find and create work that both accommodates their health and generates an income. You can also find her on Facebook.

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