Can I Work Part-Time While Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI)?

It is possible to receive Social Security disability benefits if you are working part-time. However, there are strict limits as to how much you can work and earn while getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). But in some cases, you may take part in “work incentives” while receiving the full amount of SSDI.

Understanding the rules regarding working part-time and receiving SSDI can be tricky. If you receive disability benefits and want to start working, it is advisable to consult with a trusted and experienced disability attorney. Getting the right advice means that you can avoid the risk of the Social Security Administration (SSA) stopping your benefits. 

This article will answer any questions you may have about working while receiving Social Security disability benefits.

Social Security Disability Benefits and Working Part-Time

You can apply for SSDI benefits if illnesses or injuries prevent you from working. The disability benefit amount you receive is based on a calculation of your earnings history. Your earnings while working and receiving SSDI must be less than “substantial gainful activity.”

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

SGA is generally any work that provides you above a certain income in any given month (with some exceptions). Generally, SSDI recipients can work part-time earning below the substantial gainful activity income limits. In 2020, the “substantial gainful activity” limits are as follows:

  • Under $1,260 per month if you are disabled but not blind
  • Under $2,110 per month if you are blind

However, even if you are earning below the monthly SGA earnings limits, SSA will also look at other factors to consider whether you can receive disability benefits. These factors are: 

  • The number of hours you work 
  • The type of work you are performing

Here are a few examples showing how working either full-time or part-time could affect your disability benefits.

Real-life Scenarios

A person working below the SGA amount, but who works for many hours per week to earn that money may not be eligible for SSDI benefits. This is because consistent work of substantial hours per week can lead SSA to conclude that the person’s medical condition does not keep them from being able to be a consistent worker earning above SGA.

Or, a person volunteering at a soup kitchen (not being paid any wages for their hours worked) may be terminated from benefits by SSA. If the volunteer work is consistent, demanding, and or fast-paced, SSA could conclude that the person could hold down paid similar consistent employment earning above SGA (for example in a restaurant).

On the other hand, certain types of employment or employment locations called “sheltered workshops” specifically cater to the needs of disabled persons (such as extra supervision, one on one supervision, assistance with work duties by a mentor throughout the day, frequent repetition of instructions throughout the day, unlimited time given in which to complete work tasks, etc.). In these situations, wages earned may not be considered SGA even if the actual earnings are over the SGA limit due to the excessive and atypical assistance the worker requires. Therefore, the worker in this situation may be allowed to earn wages above SGA and qualify to receive disability benefits.

Trial work periods

SSA has established various programs to encourage disability benefit recipients to return to the workforce if their medical conditions so allow (with the goal of eventually transitioning off of disability benefits). A trial work period allows you to attempt to return to work, during which the can earn more than the SGA limit and still receive the full SSDI amount. 

If you decide to attempt to return to work after being awarded SSDI, there are a few things to remember: 

  • During a period of 60 months, you can attempt a trial work period for up to nine months
  • The nine trial work months do not need to be consecutive.
  • If you continue to have “substantial gainful activity” for more than nine months in total, your disability benefits will stop

Have questions about trial work periods?

An experienced disability attorney such as Sara J. Frankel can give you the best advice on receiving Social Security disability while working. Attorney Frankel is a former Social Security Administration staff attorney with almost three decades of experience. The compassionate team at the Law Offices of Sara J Frankel & Associates helps Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents to apply successfully for SSDI benefits. 

Maximize your chance of receiving the disability benefits you need and deserve, even if you continue to perform limited work activities. Contact the Law Offices of Sara J. Frankel today to get the help you need.