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WORK ACTIVITY AND SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY

People sometimes think that applying for Social Security Disability benefits means that they can never go back to work, or that going back to work in any capacity means they will lose their benefits. Neither of those things is true.

In general, Social Security Disability benefits are payable to people who are “insured” (have an adequate earning history with payment into the Social Security system), have a significant injury or illness, and are expected to be unable to perform any work for at least twelve months. In some cases, a person may be disabled for a year or two before recovering enough to return to work. When that happens before their application is decided, the Social Security judge may award them a “closed period” of benefits for the period of time they were disabled. For example, if a person is disabled for two years, they would potentially be eligible for eighteen months of Social Security Disability benefits (no benefits are payable for the first six months of disability).

In addition, returning to work does not automatically end someone’s Social Security Disability benefits. As long as the work is not considered “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) under Social Security’s regulations, benefits may continue even after someone returns to work. One measure of SGA is the amount of the post-disability earnings – in 2022 that figure is $1,350 per month for someone who is disabled for a reason other than blindness and $2,260 per month for someone who is disabled as a result of being blind.

In addition, Social Security permits return to work on a “trial work” basis for up to nine months without interruption of disability benefits. If it turns out that the person’s disability prevents them from continuing to work, then the trial work period does not affect their disability benefits.

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