Can you Work and Receive Social Security Disability Benefits?

The Social Security Administration sets a limit on how much a Social Security Disability benefits recipient or a disability benefits applicant can earn without jeopardizing their eligibility for benefits. This limit is placed on your gross monthly earnings and affects not only your initial application, but also your continuing eligibility to receive benefits once your disability application is approved.

Because the Social Security Administration bases its determination on your need for disability benefits on whether or not you are too disabled to support yourself, it has set a limit on earnings. If your gross monthly earnings exceed those limits, the Social Security Administration takes that as evidence that you are able to support yourself and that you are therefore no longer qualified to receive benefits.

If you are not yet receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, but you intend to file a disability claim to obtain those benefits, your gross monthly earnings must fall below the current limits for substantial gainful activity, or SGA. This amount creeps upward from year to year, mostly due to inflation. For 2019, SGA is set at $1,220 per month and if you are blind, the limit increases to $2,040 a month. If you are making more than this minimal amount, you will be disqualified from receiving disability benefits.

If you are already receiving Social Security Disability benefits, other factors come into play that may reduce even this modest sum. For example, while you may be earning less than the SGA, the same amount may eat up part of your trial work period, the limit on which is $880 a month at this time.

The trial work period is intended for disability benefits recipients who believe they may be able to resume working. If you decide to go back to work, the Social Security Administration allows you to keep receiving Social Security disability benefits for up to nine months within any five-year period. There is no limit to how much income you make in those nine months, providing you continue to be disabled. (The Social Security Administration does require you to report this work and the amount you are making.) If the trial period does not work out for you, you will simply continue to receive your disability benefits.

However, any month in which you earn more than $880 or spend more than 80 hours a month in your own business counts against the nine months, so if you continue to work while receiving benefits, you run the risk of inadvertently using up your trial work period months. It is wise to investigate all potential pitfalls if you decide to work while receiving benefits.

Although the Social Security Administration’s rules and regulations relating to work may seem arbitrary and complicated, and although there are many factors that cause people to be desperate for income, including a poor economy and the injustice of disability discrimination in finding and holding a job that pays a living wage, the bottom line is that Social Security disability benefits are not supplemental income for disabled people. Social Security disability benefits are for disabled people whose disabling conditions are so severe they would be unable to accept employment even if they were actively recruited for a well paying job with all the perks.