According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7.4 million people received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments in 2023, including 89,000 spouses and 1.1 million children.
SSDI supports workers who develop disabilities before they retire, as well as their spouses and children. The average monthly payment was $1,489 in 2023, NerdWallet reports.
Disability benefits are available to those who cannot perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) for a year or more because of a qualifying disability. Per the Social Security Administration (SSA), the monthly SGA amount is $1,550 for non-blind individuals in 2024. For blind individuals, it is $2,590 per month.
Can – and Should – I Return to Work?
While the SSA reports that most SSDI recipients do not return to work, doing so is an opportunity for some. In 2021, 65,533 recipients did return to work, and their benefits ended because they earned more than the SGA amount.
If you can work despite your disability or your condition improves, working can allow you to secure income that could be more than your SSDI benefit. Employees gain benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. Finding a job or calling that you enjoy could have additional advantages beyond financial independence. Working can also provide:
- Intellectual challenge
- A sense of purpose or identity
- An opportunity to meet new people and have different experiences
- The chance to advance in your career
Returning to work could also have mental health benefits. Research further suggests that people with disabilities who have a full- or part-time job score better on mental health.
Since the SSA limits benefits to those whose incomes fall under the SGA threshold, deciding to return to work as an SSDI recipient can trigger concerns about losing benefits. Individuals sometimes worry about whether they can support themselves and their families by returning to work after a disability.
The Trial Work Period (TWP) can help ease these concerns.
What Is the Trial Work Period (TWP)?
By participating in the trial work period (TWP), you can preserve your benefits while you explore whether returning to work is right for you. This can delay the end of benefits, allowing you to try returning to work without fully committing to ending your benefits.
Social Security Work Incentives such as the trial work period aim to encourage people to continue working or re-enter the workforce.
If you decide to participate in the TWP, the SSA will continue giving you your complete SSDI benefit payments while you’re in the program. To remain eligible, you must report your work activity.
Through the TWP, you can maintain your benefits for at least nine months. During this period, you will receive your usual monthly benefit amount regardless of how much money you make.
You will remain in the program until you complete nine TWP service months in a rolling 60-month period. The nine months need not be consecutive.
A month counts as a service month when you earn more than a certain amount or work 80 hours in self-employment. For the TWP, the threshold for a month to count as a service month is different from the SGA number. In 2024, the TWP threshold amount is $1,110, a $50 increase from 2023.
Who Is Eligible for the Trial Work Period Program?
The TWP is open to SSDI recipients who intend to engage in SGA. To be part of the program, you must continue to be considered disabled. Improvements to your condition could disqualify you from receiving SSDI, regardless of whether you participate in the Trial Work Period. In 2021, the SSA terminated benefits for 19,786 people because it determined their health had improved, allowing them to resume work.
Extended Period of Eligibility
After you graduate from the Trial Work Period, another work incentive, the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), acts as an additional safeguard. For the next 36 months, you can receive your SSDI payment for the months where your SSDI payment falls below the SGA amount.
Once you earn about the SGA amount, the SSA ends benefits following a two-month grace period. If your income is below the SGA amount within the 36-month timeframe, the SSA can restate your benefits without a new application.
Consult With an Attorney
Are you considering returning to work following a disability? A qualified special needs planning attorney near you can help you understand how this decision will affect your benefits. Should you decide to start working again, they can help you navigate the SSA’s work incentives to ensure you maintain access to benefits.