An Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) is the 36 month time period in which your Social Security Disability benefits may be stopped and re-started without requiring a new disability determination by the Social Security Administration.
The Extended Period of Eligibility would apply to you if you received Social Security Disability benefits, returned to work, and found yourself once again unable to work due to your disability. As long as you are within the 36-month EPE window, you will be able to regain your benefits following your return and departure from work.
If more than 36 months pass and you become disabled again, the process of applying for Social Security Disability benefits must begin again – which includes providing proof of disability or impairment.
The Extended Period of Eligibility begins after a beneficiary goes through a trial work period. The trial work period allows you to attempt returning to work for at least nine months without losing Social Security Disability benefits. The trial work period continues until you have worked nine trial months over a 60 month span, and allows you to receive Social Security Disability benefits despite your level of income.
During the Extended Period of Eligibility, you will receive full Social Security Disability benefits for each month that you do not work, or if your earnings do not exceed the Social Security Administration’s substantial gainful activity level. According to 2018 guidelines set by the Social Security Administration, substantial gainful activity levels are $1,180 in earnings per month if a beneficiary is not vision-impaired and $1,970 per month if the beneficiary is legally blind. If your monthly earnings exceed the monthly substantial gainful activity limit during the Extended Period of Eligibility, no Social Security Disability benefits will be paid for those months.
If you are still eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits at the end of the 36-month Extended Period of Eligibility, even if you worked for a period of time during those 36 months, your benefits will continue until you return to work or your condition improves enough for you to seek employment.