Can You Work and Get Social Security Disability Benefits?

September 23,2016
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Claimants who work part-time often wonder whether they can work and get Social Security disability benefits.  In short, you can qualify for disability benefits even if you can perform some work. However, the amount of work you do and the wages you earn from it must be limited.

One of the key elements of qualifying for SSDI/SSI benefits is the inability to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). Disability is defined as the inability to perform SGA. No matter how injured you are or how bad your illness is, you will not qualify for disability if you can perform SGA.

What Is Substantial Gainful Activity in Social Security Disability Benefits?

Substantial gainful activity is work that pays more than a monthly limit. The amount changes every year. The limit can be found on the SSA website,

For 2016, you cannot make more than $1,130 per month, or $13,560 per year, to be considered disabled. That amounts to working about 35 hours per week at the federal minimum wage of $7.25. If you make more than the federal minimum wage, fewer hours would be necessary.

To determine how much money you make per month, multiply your rate of pay by the hours of work you complete in an average week, then multiply that number by 52 (the number of weeks in a year). You will then have your average annual income. Then, divide your average annual income by 12 (the number of months in a year). This will give you an average monthly income. Simply multiplying your weekly wage by four will not produce your average monthly income because the number of weeks in a month varies.

For example:

If you make the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr) and work 30 hours per week.

  • $7.25 x 30 hours = $217.50 weekly
  • $217.50 x 52 weeks in a year = $11,310 annually
  • $11,310 ÷ 12 months in a year = $942.50
  • Your average monthly income is $942.50.

The total amount of money you are allowed to make may be slightly different depending upon your specific circumstances. For example, if you are blind, you may earn up to $1,820 per month and still be considered disabled.


How Social Security Determines if You Can Do Substantial Gainful Activity

Working before you are approved for benefits, even though you are earning below the SGA limit, can sometimes make your claim more challenging.  When you are doing some work, the SSA evaluator will look closely at your evidence to determine why you are unable to increase your work to the SGA level. You will be required to provide proof of income and other details about your job.

If your income does not meet the level of substantial gainful activity, but your impairments do not prevent you from working more, you may still be found able to work. For example, if your job simply didn’t give you enough hours, and you also performed volunteer work several hours per week, the SSA evaluator may conclude that you are able to perform substantial gainful activity. The SSA will even consider hobbies and criminal activities as proof of a claimant’s ability to work.

Conversely, if you earned more than the maximum amount allowed, but incurred impairment related work expenses (IRWE), they may reduce your income below the SGA level so that you can qualify for benefits. IRWE are the cost of items such as medications, medical treatment and equipment, and certain other expenses that you need to work because of your disabling medical condition.

If you are filing for SSI disability payments, IRWE may reduce your income in order to meet the SSI federal income test.

Working after You Begin to Get Social Security Disability Benefits

Once you are approved for SSDI benefits, you’ll continue to get your full disability benefit while you work as long as your earnings stay below the SGA limit. You can also earn above the SGA limit and still receive your full benefits during a nine-month trial work period

SSA wants you to return to full time work when possible. Thus, you are allowed a trial work period during which your SSDI benefits will not be reduced for up to nine months regardless of how much you earn. However, it is possible for the amount of your SSI benefits to be reduced if you have other income. During your trial work period, your health benefits will also continue.

You must report when you start and stop work, as well as your rate of pay and any expenses you have because of your disability. If your disability benefits are discontinued because of your earnings, and then you become unable to work again because of the same medical condition, your benefits will be reinstated.

While the standard rules for working while disabled seem beneficial, they can be complicated. SSA does want to help people return to work; however, they diligently review cases to stop benefits of recipients who they believe have recovered enough to return to full-time work. You need a qualified disability attorney to help you work and get Social Security disability benefits. Contact the Hermann Law Group at 914-286-3030 to learn how our disability attorneys can assist you.