Social Security
Disability Insurance

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The SSDI program provides monthly cash benefits to people with disabilities who have worked and paid in a certain amount of Social Security/FICA tax.

People who become disabled prior to age 22 may also be able to receive disability insurance benefits if they have a parent who dies, retires or becomes disabled. This is often referred to as Retirement, Survivors, Disability Insurance (RSDI). SSDI and RSDI have basically the same rules for people with disabilities who work.

People on SSDI/RSDI become eligible for Medicare health coverage 24 months after they begin receiving cash benefits. Since Medicare does not cover long-term care services, such as personal care assistance, many people on SSDI benefits also need Medical Assistance (MA). There is a specific MA program available to people with disabilities who are working. It is called Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities or MA-EPD.


Eligibility

When applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or any other program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), SSA will determine which programs, if any, you qualify for. If you are not eligible for SSDI, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or retirement benefits. See Social Security’s definition of disability here.

SSA will consider the extent of your disability, your previous work history, your current earnings and your age when determining which benefits are appropriate for you. To apply, call SSA at 1-800-772-1213, or go to the Social Security website.

 

What should I know about SSDI and going to work?

  • When receiving SSDI, and planning to go to work, you should know if you are in your Trial Work Period (TWP), Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) or beyond. This will determine how your benefits are affected.
  • Earning over the limits for SSDI, called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), may make you ineligible for an SSDI payment. SGA is $1,260 per month in 2020; $2,110 for those with blindness.
  • There are ways to earn above SGA and still receive a SSDI payment.
  • The start and stop of work, as well as any changes in earnings, need to be reported to your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office.

Resources: Work incentives for people on SSDI flyer


Trial Work Period (TWP)

SSDI work incentive only. The Trial Work Period (TWP) is a 9-month period, which allows you to test your ability to work. When in your TWP, you can earn significant income and continue to receive an SSDI payment. This is especially helpful for people who want to return to work full time, but are not sure if they can.

 

Trial Work Period features

  • When you first return to work, you enter the Trial Work Period when you earn a minimum of $910 per month in 2020. Prior to 2020, the Trial Work month thresholds in each year were:
    • $880 in 2019
    • $850 in 2018
    • $840 in 2017
    • $810 in 2016
    • $780 in 2015
  • Each month you earn above the Trial Work limit counts as one Trial Work month.
  • If you earn less than the Trial Work limit, the month does not count toward your nine, Trial Work months.
  • There are different rules for people who are self employed. Contact the Work Incentives Connection or your local SSA office if you are self-employed and in your Trial Work Period.
  • During the Trial Work Period, you continue to receive your full SSDI payment each month.

 

Additional information about TWP

  • Many people use Trial Work months without realizing it. Contact your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office every time you start and stop work and report your income regularly.
  • When starting a new job, always check with your local SSA office to see if you have any Trial Work Months remaining. If you have completed your Trial Work Period, different rules apply to your situation. See the Extended Period of Eligibility which comes after the Trial Work Period.
  • Save all of your paystubs and keep pertinent information regarding your work history. If the information kept by SSA is incomplete, you may be asked to provide information about your work record and earnings.
  • There are different rules for people who are self employed.

Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

SSDI work incentive only. The Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins the month after your Trial Work Period (TWP) ends and lasts for 36 consecutive months.

During your EPE, you will continue to receive an SSDI payment in each month your earnings are below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. In 2020, SGA is $1,260 per month ($2,110 per month for people receiving benefits based on blindness). You are not entitled to an SSDI payment in months when you earn more than the SGA limit, unless you can use work incentives. The change in your payment is often referred to as “all or nothing”. SSDI does not reduce your payment to a partial payment. You either receive the whole payment, or no payment for that month. You are eligible for an SSDI payment in any of the following months your earnings drop below SGA again, during the EPE.

 

Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) features:

  • SSDI cash payments continue when earning below SGA, as long as you continue to have a disability.
  • Your eligibility for SSDI cash payments can vary from month-to-month, depending if your earnings are above or below the SGA level. A reapplication for benefits is not needed.
  • Many people use the EPE as a time to see if they can handle working full time. If you cannot continue to earn above the SGA level ($1,260 per month in 2020, or $2,110 per month if blind), SSDI payments can be reinstated by calling the local Social Security Administration (SSA) office and informing them when earnings fall below the SGA level.

 

Additional information about EPE:

  • Report to your local SSA office when your earnings are above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level since it would mean your SSDI checks should stop.
  • Always inform the local SSA office when you start and stop work; it may affect how quickly your SSDI payments are restarted.
  • The more timely your earnings information is reported, the more accurate your SSDI payments will be and the less likely you will be overpaid or underpaid.
  • SSDI counts your earnings as they are earned, not as they are received. This means that it is more accurate to calculate your earnings by adding up your hours worked and multiplying by your hourly wage than to look at the amount received on your paychecks. More information on how to monitor benefits.

Subsidy

A Subsidy is a Work Incentive that is sometimes used by individuals who receive SSDI.The value of the subsidy is deducted from your countable earnings when determining if you have earned above the Substantial Gainful Activity level (SGA, $1,260 per month in 2020, or $2,110 if blind). 

If your earnings are approaching the SGA limits ($1,260 per month in 2020, or $2,110 if blind), contact the Goodwill-Easter Seals Work Incentives Connection to see if subsidy or other work incentives might apply to your situation.

Examples of subsidy include:

  • Job coaching
  • Extra help with certain tasks from a co-worker or supervisor
  • Fewer or different duties
  • Extra breaks
  • Extra time to complete your work

Any subsidy you claim must be approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can have your employer or job coach complete the Work Incentives Connection's Subsidy Identification Tool below. They can either complete it online and print it out, or print it out first and complete it by hand. Then, submit it to your SSA representative who will determine the amount of subsidy you receive.
Subsidy Identification Tool

If your earnings are approaching the SGA limits ($1,220 per month in 2019, or $2,040 if blind), contact the Goodwill-Easter Seals Work Incentives Connection to see if subsidy or other work incentives might apply to your situation.


Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs)

Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE) is a work incentive available to individuals who receive SSDI and/or SSI. If you receive SSDI, IRWEs are used only if you have completed your Trial Work Period and are earning more than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level, which is $1,260 per month in 2020 ($2,110 for those receiving benefits based on blindness).

 

An IRWE expense must be:

  • Paid for out of your own pocket and not reimbursed by any other source
  • Related to a serious health condition
  • Necessary in order to work
  • Approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA)

 

Possible IRWE expenses:

  • Attendant care costs in certain situations
  • Modification costs for vehicles and other items
  • Transportation costs in certain situations
  • Medical device costs
  • Medication costs
  • Medical service expenses
  • Out-of-pocket job coaching expenses

 

How can an IRWE help me?

  • If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you are usually ineligible for a benefit check if you earn more than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. With an approved IRWE, SSA doesn’t count earnings you use to pay for certain expenses, which allows your SSDI benefits to continue even though you are earning more than the SGA level.
  • The cost of an IRWE may also be used when determining initial eligibility for SSDI and SSI, in order to reduce the individual’s countable income below SGA.

 

What else do I need to know?

IRWE rules require that specific criteria be met and specific documentation be kept. IRWEs also need to be approved by your local Social Security office before they can be considered to be in effect.


Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS)

If you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and have a specific vocational goal, PASS may help you reach it. PASS allows you to save money for school, buying a modified vehicle, paying for new business start-up costs or other expenses related to becoming self-sufficient. Using a PASS allows you to set aside income from employment and/or your SSDI check to save for these special expenses, while receiving an SSI check to pay for your daily living expenses.

The funds you are using for your PASS must be kept separate from other money, and you must keep records of your PASS expenses. Any changes in the amount of money put into your PASS account must be approved by the Social Security Administration.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a group of staff members,called the PASS Cadre, who can help you understand all the aspects of a PASS. The PASS Cadre coordinates PASS activities from start to finish, and can help you in preparing your PASS application.

  • PASS Cadre for all individuals in Minnesota, except for those listed below in Northwestern Minnesota, contact Joani Werner at 1-866-667-6032 ext. 10661.
  • Denver PASS Cadre who serves the Northwestern edge of Minnesota. Clients who are served by Fergus Falls, Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston SSA offices, contact Thomas Sprunt at 1-866-690-2075 Ext 19506.

Your request for a PASS must be in writing and approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA). PASS application form: Social Security Administration PASS application form. See the PASS Fact Sheet for more details.


After the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

If your earnings are over SGA and work incentives do not apply after your 36 month EPE, your SSDI payment will stop. If your earnings later drop below SGA you may be able to have your SSDI payment restarted. Social Security offers these two options:

  1. File a new application
  2. Use Expedited Reinstatement

Expedited Reinstatement (EXR)

Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) provides a safety net for individuals who work off their benefits. Expedited Reinstatement allows people whose Social Security benefits ended due to earnings over SGA to have those benefits restarted without having to file a new application. Detailed information about EXR can be found here.


See this page for details about Medicare.

Information about Medical Assistance can be found here.