Originally published January 30, 2019.

Social Security disability programs pay benefits to people who are unable to perform their jobs because of a serious physical or mental impairment. This applies whether individuals are permanently totally disabled or expect to eventually return to work in some capacity. However, the Social Security Administration considers it a priority to support the efforts of disabled individuals who want to return to the workforce and become self-supporting again.

Both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program have work incentives that allow recipients to work while still receiving disability benefits.

However, these incentives can be complex and failing to comply with them can cause you to lose your benefits.

If you are on disability or are applying for federal disability benefits and want to work, or you are assisting a loved one, feel free to contact our Social Security Disability lawyers in South Carolina for assistance. We will review your case free of charge – and with no strings attached.

What are Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income?

The primary Social Security programs for people with long-term disabilities are:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which provides benefits to disabled or blind individuals who have contributed to the Social Security system. These contributions are the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) Social Security tax paid on their earnings or those of their spouses or parents.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which makes cash assistance payments to aged, blind and disabled people (including children under age 18) who have limited income and resources. People who receive SSI typically have never been able to work and have very limited assets.

Qualifying for SSDI

The premise of SSDI is that your condition prevents you from earning sufficient income to meet your monthly bills. To be recognized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a qualifying disability, your condition must be expected to last at least 12 months or be a terminal condition and prevent you from engaging in any substantial gainful work for pay. It is not intended for people with temporary disabilities that are expected to fully recover.

Working and Receiving SSDI Through the Trial Work Program

Recipients of SSDI benefits may take advantage of several programs that allow them to test their ability to work, or to continue working, and gradually become self-supporting and independent.

Under SSDI’s Trial Work Period (TWP), you can test your ability to work and receive your full disability benefits. Here’s how it works:

  • You must work for a minimum of nine months.
  • A month of work only counts as part of your TWP if you earn more than the minimum set by the SSA ($1,050/month as of 2023).
  • Your nine qualifying months do not need to be worked consecutively.
  • You are required to report all of your work activity throughout your TWP to the SSA.
  • Your TWP ends once you’ve worked nine qualifying months out of a 60-month (five year) period.
  • After you complete the trial work period, you begin your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), which lasts 36 months (three years).

During this period, the Social Security Administration will evaluate your work and earnings to determine whether you can work at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) earnings level. 

How Much Does Disability Pay in South Carolina?

During the three-year period, you still receive benefits for any month in which your earnings do not exceed $1,470 (as of 2023 but adjusted annually) or $2,460 if you are blind. In other words, while on disability you may earn up to $17,640 in a year, or $29,520 if you are blind, and still receive benefits.

The amount of work you may do and remain eligible for disability benefits is based on earnings, not on how many hours you work.

If your earnings exceed the threshold but you must stop working at any point during the three-year period because of your disability, your full SSDI payments will be immediately reinstated.

Can I Get My SSDI Benefits Back if I Lost Them?

Some people continue to successfully work after the three-year period is over, but then their disabilities recur. If this happens, you can file for an Expedited Reinstatement at any time during the first five years following the month your benefits ended. You do not have to go through the entire disability application process.

Under expedited reinstatement, you receive provisional, or temporary, benefits for up to six months. During that time, the Social Security Administration will decide whether you can get benefits again.

Once you have been reinstated, you begin your initial reinstatement period. The reinstatement period ensures that you receive a monthly benefit any month you earn less than the SGA earnings level for 24 months.

Once you have received a total of 24 monthly benefits payments, if you are still receiving SSDI benefits, you are also eligible for:

  • a new nine-month trial work period
  • a new 36-month extended period of eligibility
  • a new 60-month period to file a request if your reinstated benefits are terminated due to SGA earnings
  • a new period of extended Medicare coverage

Conversely, if your earnings exceed the level qualifying as a substantial gainful activity after the 36-month period, then your benefits will end.

If your SSDI benefits stop because of your earnings, but you’re still disabled, then your free Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least 93 months after the nine-month trial work period. After that, you can buy Medicare Part A coverage by paying a monthly premium.

Working While Receiving SSI Disability Benefits

Because fewer Supplemental Security Income recipients are capable of substantially gainful employment, the SSI work incentives are simpler.

For SSI recipients who work, the Social Security Administration provides an Earned Income Exclusion. Under the exclusion, the Social Security Administration does not count the first $65 of earnings an SSI recipient receives in a month, plus one-half of the remaining earnings when the agency calculates the monthly SSI payment. This means the monthly benefit is based on less than one-half of the SSI recipient’s earnings, no matter how much they are.

A special provision in the law eliminates the need for a trial work period or extended period of eligibility under SSI. If a disabled person becomes ineligible for SSI payments due to employment, they are usually able to restart SSI cash payments at any time without a new application.

Contact Our South Carolina Social Security Disability Lawyers

Social Security Administration programs for the disabled provide valuable benefits and assistance for those who know what is available. The complexity of the rules combined with the backlog of claims keeps many disabled South Carolinians from getting all the benefits they should receive.

If you are totally disabled but would like to pursue some level of work, our South Carolina Social Security Disability benefits attorneys at Joye Law Firm can help you seek the full federal assistance that you are entitled to by law. A lawyer from our firm can review your case in a free, no-obligation initial consultation. Call Joye Law Firm at (877) 941-1019 or contact us online today.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.

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