The problem with SSDI’s trial work program

When you’re on SSDI (social security disability insurance) the presumption is that your disability prevents you from working. Ok, I get that. But what if you want to return to work part time or full time? Ah, that’s and interesting process.20120809_220808

Everyone gets a different amount of money through SSDI. The formula is based on how much you paid into the system, and that in turn comes from the salary you earned and over how many months you earned it. You might be getting $900 per month or $1800 per month. If you’re on SSDI for more than 2 years then you’re eligible for Medicare, which is health insurance. You’re also more likely to be eligible for other benefits.

Now, what happens if you start doing some work? Well, at a certain point the SSA (Social Security Administration) decides that you’re able to support yourself. That point is a set number. It’s not a percentage of your benefit. Nope. It’s a set number: $1090 per month right now (this can change each year.) So if your benefit is $900 and you start earning $1100 then you lose SSDI and Medicare, but that might be ok with your extra income if you’re earning $1100 every month. You might only earn it occasionally, though (more on that in a bit.) But if your benefit is $1800 and you earn $1100, then you lose SSDI and Medicare and, unless you have unearned income from some source (like a spouse, alimony, or investments) then you’re probably screwed.

That’s how I feel now: screwed. I’m ready to do some small amounts of work, which is exciting in and of itself! I recently earned around $1100! This is very exciting! If it was all in 1 month, though, it would count towards my return to work trial period of 9 months total. Those total 9 months are spread out over 5 years, so I could work for 2 months per year, and still lose my benefits. That’s not good! Luckily for me, it was spread out over 3 months, at an average of under $400 per month. What a relief!

But wait, isn’t there something wrong with the system if I feel relieved to earn less money? Shouldn’t the goal be to get me back to work so that I don’t need benefits?

What if I make more than $1090 per month for 3 months this year? Then what if the same thing happens again next year? I’d stop working altogether so I wouldn’t risk going off benefits. I can’t afford to have 0 income, and I definitely can’t afford to lose my health insurance!

Instead, the system should encourage me to work part time with the hope that I would build up to more part time work or even full time work! The trial work period should only cover a short timeframe, like a certain number of months worked in a 1 or 2 year period. There should be a grace period for Medicare.

But with the current setup, I’m scared to attempt to go back to work. What if I try to work, lose my benefits, and then fail to continue working? Yes, there’s a grace period where I can get back on benefits, but it’s short. And I’m scared. It took me more than 2 years to get on SSDI in the first place. I can’t take a chance on losing it.

And that’s why the system doesn’t work.

Have you felt the same way about SSDI? How do you handle it? Do you hold back on the amount of work you do in order to stay on benefits?

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8 Responses to The problem with SSDI’s trial work program

  1. stuckintexas says:

    A few tweaks. Any month you make over $780 MAY be counted towards your trial work period (TWP).

    In the first 36 months after you return to work, any month you fail to make $1,090 you will get your full SSDI check. You will also continue to receive Medicare for those 36 months. (There’s also a grace period where you get your SSDI plus whatever you earn even over $1,090, but it’s only 2 months).

    Also, if at anytime before you’ve been working for 5 years you are once again unable to work you file for expedited return of benefits.

    They will start payments right away, but SSA has 6 months to try and prove you’re no longer disabled.

    I agree that given the wide variance in benefit amounts, SGA should be a percentage of your benefits, not a flat amount.

    • chronicrants says:

      Hey stuckintexas, thanks for contributing! I find this stuff clear as mud. The person I just spoke to at SSA didn’t mention anything about those 36 months. She said that the $780 is the threshold where they review your work history to see IF you’ve earned more than $1090. If you haven’t, then they continue to review you, but you’re not in the trial period yet. So $780 is basically the amount that puts you on SSA’s radar. She was clear that after 9 months you’re considered to be able to support yourself and will no longer receive benefits, but to be honest, I’ve gotten conflicting info from SSA over other things, so she might have just been wrong. Do you have any links that verify the 36 month thing? That would make a huge difference!! Thanks again 🙂

      Ok folks, who else wants to correct me? I’d love to be wrong about most of this!

  2. Agreed. I’m still in the initial application process, but none of the system makes logical sense. But it’s better than nothing, I guess.

  3. […] wrong, it’s still considered my fault. A few weeks ago I wrong about my frustration with SSDI benefits, mostly based on a phone call with a representation at the SSA (Social Security Administration.) […]

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