The Social Security Administration wants to help you successfully transition back to work and to achieve financial independence from disability income. Through the Ticket to Work program, you can work either full time or part time and still receive all or a portion of your disability benefits. If you lose your job or you can't work because of your disability, you're still protected, even if you're no longer receiving disability. The rules that govern working while on disability vary based on whether you're receiving Social Security Disability Income, or SSDI, or Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.
SSDI Trial Work Months
When you're receiving SSDI benefits and you go back to work, either full time or part time, any month in which you earn more than a certain amount, $770 as of publication, is called a trial work month. For a period of five years, you can work up to nine trial work months without affecting your disability income. The trial work months do not have to be consecutive, and there is no limit to the amount of money you can earn in any given month.
SSDI Extended Eligibility Period
After you've completed nine trial work months, the next three years are called your extended eligibility period. You receive your SSDI benefit only if you earn less than a "substantial" amount, which is $1,070 as of publication. If you stop receiving SSDI because your income is substantial, for the next five years, you can apply to have your benefits reinstated if you lose your job or you can't work because of your disability. Once you apply for reinstatement, you automatically receive your benefits for the next six months while the SSA reviews your application, and you can keep those benefits even if your application is denied.
SSI Income Reductions
When you go back to work and you're receiving SSI income, your income is reduced by a portion of the amount you earn from your part-time or full-time job. The SSA deducts one-half of your earnings in excess of $85 from your SSI payment. For example, if you earn $800 in a particular month, the SSA subtracts $85 to get $715, and multiplies that by one-half to get $357.50. Your SSI payment for that month is then reduced by $357.50.
For both the SSDI and SSI disability income programs, if you have expenses related to your disability that non-disabled people do not have, the SSA will determine your eligibility based on your monthly income minus your expenses. For example, if you must take a taxi to work because of your disability or you have to pay for counseling services related to your disability, the SSA will deduct those expenses before it determines your eligibility for any given month.