Disability Benefits & Returning to Work

Many people whose disability keeps them from working are permanently unable to work again. Others, however, will experience an improved medical condition that will allow them to begin substantial gainful activity—meaning they will be able to work again. This does not mean that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for disability will end immediately, but it does mean you will have certain responsibilities while you transition back to work.

There's a lot involved when you return to work in North Carolina. Here, we provide an overview of what you should expect. If you want to discuss the specifics of your disability case, however, contact the Lloyd King Law Firm PLLC to schedule a consultation.

When Does a Person Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits Need to Return to Work?

A person receiving Social Security Disability benefits will need to return to work, in short, when his or her disability improves and allows the person to engage in substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity means you are able to work a certain amount to bring home a minimum dollar amount per month. In 2020, this minimum dollar amount is $1,260 for non-blind persons.

Keep in mind, though, that if you are working but not earning the minimum dollar amount or even if you are volunteering and not earning anything, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can still determine that you are able enough to return to work. The minimum dollar amount is set as a general way to measure a person's ability to earn an income on his or her own, but if your medical condition has improved to the point the SSA deems you no longer disabled, then you may have to return to work.

There are, therefore, two ways your benefits may stop:

  1. You engage in substantial gainful activity; or

  2. Your medical condition has improved enough that you are no longer disabled.

How Does the SSA Decide if You Are Able to Return to Work?

The SSA reviews cases to verify your disability. You will receive a notice that the SSA will review your case. The SSA reviews cases based on the level of expectation of improvement:

  • If you are expected to improve, your case is typically reviewed between six to 18 months after benefits have started;

  • If it is possible you will improve, your case is typically reviewed at or after three years;

  • If you are not expected to improve, your case is typically not reviewed until at or after seven years.

During a case review, the SSA will gather information about your medical condition. It will speak to doctors and other medical professionals or facilities and review medical records. The object of the investigation is to answer certain questions:

  • How does your medical condition limit your activities?

  • What do your medical tests say?

  • What medical treatment have you been given or are you still receiving?

  • Are there any new health problems?

  • How has your medical condition changed?

Based on the information gathered, the SSA will determine first if your medical condition has improved. If so, the SSA will determine if the improvement is enough to allow you to work. Finally, it will determine if the improvement allows you to work in the type of jobs you previously did or if you'll have to work in something else.

You should keep in mind here, too, that you are responsible to report to the SSA when:

  • You start working (or stop if you have been working).

  • You have been working but duties, hours, or pay rate has changed.

  • You pay for impairment-related work expenses.

If you do not report to the SSA, you could lose your benefits.

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What Happens When You Return to Work After Receiving Disability Benefits?

When you return to work, you won't be cut off from your disability benefits. It's a process so that you can transition slowly and ensure you are indeed ready to return to work. There are three specific programs to know: work incentives, Ticket to Work, and Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS).

Work Incentives

Work incentives are just that: incentives to help persons with an improved medical condition get back to work. These incentives allow you to:

  • continue receiving cash benefit for a certain amount of time while you work;

  • continue receiving Medicare or Medicaid benefits while you work; and

  • receive education, training, or rehabilitation if you need to start in a new area of work.

Work incentives are different for SSDI benefits and SSI payments.

SSDI Work Incentives

  • Trial Work Period – You are allowed to test your ability to work for at least nine months, and during this trial period, you will receive full Social Security disability benefits regardless of the earning. In 2020, you must earn $910 a month for the month to qualify as a trial.

  • Extended Period of Eligibility – You have e36 months after the trial work period to receive benefits for any month your earnings are not substantial. In 2020, a non-blind person must earn at least $1,260 for it to be substantial.

  • Work-Related & Disability Expenses – If you work with a disability but need to purchase equipment or services to help your get to your job or perform the work, these expenses can be deducted from the monthly earnings that determine whether you are eligible for benefits.

  • Continuation of Medicare – When your disability benefits end because you have started working but you still have the disability, and you have Medicare Part A coverage, this free coverage will continue for another 93 months after the trial work period ends.

  • Expedited Reinstatement – If you successfully regain employment and disability payments end but later your medical condition returns, you have up to five years to request a restart of your benefits without having to apply.

SSI Work Incentives

  • Continuation of SSI – If your income remains limited or you work despite your disability, you can still get your SSI payments.

  • Continuation of Medicaid – You will still receive Medicaid if your earnings are less than North Carolina's qualifying amount, which in 2020 is

    • $1,041/month for single persons with assets less than $2,000; or

    • $1,409/month for married persons with assets less than $3,000.

  • Expedited Reinstatement – If SSI payments were stopped due to your employment, but you become unable to work again due to a medical condition, SSI payments can restart without a new application if requested within five years after SSI payments had stopped.

Ticket to Work

Under the Ticket to Work program, you will still receive your Social Security disability benefits or SSI payments while you also receive:

  • vocational rehabilitation at no cost to you;

  • training;

  • job referrals; and

  • other employment support.

So long as you are under this program and making progress, your medical condition will not be reviewed.

Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

PASS is a program that helps you achieve your work goals. The program allows you to set aside earned income for things that will help you successfully reduce dependence on SSDI or SSI benefits. When you set aside some of your earnings, it won't count against your disability benefits. To qualify, your savings can be used on:

  • transportation to and from work

  • child care

  • attendant care

  • employment services, e.g., coaching and resume writing

  • supplies to start a business

  • tools and equipment for work

  • uniforms, special clothing, safety gear

  • educational-related supplies, training, or tuition.

Contact an Experienced Social Security Disability Attorney in North Carolina Today

If you live in North Carolina and have a disability that has prevented or may prevent you from working, contact the Lloyd King Law Firm PLLC today. We are committed to helping our clients and fellow community members get the Social Security disability benefits they need as well as the support required when they try to return to work.