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Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Work Incentives


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides benefits to disabled or blind workers who are insured as a result of their work history of contributions into the Social Security trust fund. The Supplemental Security Program (SSI) is need based and pays monthly benefits to disabled individuals with very limited income and resources.  The disability definition for SSDI and SSI is the same.  In order to be entitled an individual must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) and the disabling conditions must have lasted or be expected to last for at least twelve months.

A dollar amount threshold is used to determine whether an individual is engaged in SGA.  For 2011, the SGA amount for individuals with disabilities, other than blindness, is $1,000.00 in earnings per month. In 2012, the SGA threshold will be $1,010.00 per month.

Social Security provides work incentives for recipients of both SSDI and SSI.  Special rules make it possible for disabled individuals to work and remain entitled to monthly payments and Medicare and Medicaid. Individuals receiving SSDI are allowed a 9 month Trial Work Period (TWP) during which they remain entitled to their full monthly benefit regardless of the amount of their earnings. Note that the monthly earnings amount used to determine whether a month counts for the TWP is not the same as the SGA threshold.  The amount used to establish whether a month counts for the trial work period is $720 per month and will remain unchanged for 2012.  Monthly payments will end if a claimant successfully completes the TWP and remains able to engage in substantial gainful activity.

SSDI recipients are also entitled to an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) that starts with the month after the TWP ends and continues for the next 36 months.  An individual will continue to receive their SSDI check, without application, for any month during that 36 month period where their countable income is less than SGA.  In addition, individuals may be able to use the Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) process to begin receiving benefits again without the need for a new application if the disability standard is met and they file a request for EXR within 60 months of their last day of entitlement to SSDI.

Since SSI benefits are need-based, ongoing entitlement is determined based on both earned and unearned income.  Income is defined as anything in cash or kind that can be used to meet needs for food or shelter.  An SSI recipient is entitled to a $65.00 per month earned income exclusion, plus one-half of the remaining earnings, which means that less than half of an individual’s earnings are counted in determining ongoing entitlement.  Additional exclusions to countable earnings may apply.  For example, SSI’s Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) allows for the exclusion of income and/or resources that would usually be counted for determining ongoing eligibility in order to pursue a work goal.  Income or resources that are set aside under an approved PASS are not counted for purposes of deciding on entitlement to SSI.

The concepts and programs discussed above are just a few examples of the many programs and policies in place to encourage both SSDI and SSI recipients to continue to envision and pursue employment opportunities when appropriate.


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