Your Free Guide to Working While on Disability

Your Free Guide to Working While on Disability


Navigating the intersection of disability benefits and employment can be challenging. This guide aims to provide an understanding of what it means to work while on disability, the implications for your benefits, and how to manage this delicate balance. Whether you are already receiving disability benefits or considering applying for them while exploring employment options, this guide will offer you valuable insights and practical advice.

Social Security Administration Contact Information

Understanding Disability

Understanding disability is crucial for anyone navigating the complexities of disability benefits and employment. It involves a clear definition of what constitutes a disability, the various types of disabilities, and an overview of the primary federal disability programs. By grasping these foundational concepts, you can better comprehend your rights, the benefits available, and the processes involved in securing and maintaining disability support.

Definition of Disability

Disability, in the context of benefit programs, is defined by the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment. This impairment must be expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 

Disabilities can be physical, such as chronic illnesses or injuries, or mental, such as severe depression or anxiety disorders. The specific definitions and criteria can vary slightly between programs like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Overview of Disability Programs

There are two primary federal disability benefit programs in the United States: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).


SSDI is a federal program that provides financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a disabling condition. This program is designed for those who have paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes during their employment. 

To qualify for SSDI, applicants must have accumulated enough work credits, which are earned based on their annual wages or self-employment income. Generally, an individual needs to have worked for about ten years, although younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

The amount of SSDI benefits a recipient receives is determined by their average lifetime earnings before their disability began. This is calculated using the worker’s indexed earnings, which take into account changes in wage levels over time. 

In addition to the monthly financial benefits, SSDI recipients can become eligible for Medicare coverage after a 24-month waiting period, providing essential access to healthcare services. The SSDI program also includes provisions for dependents, such as minor children or a spouse, who may receive benefits based on the disabled worker’s earnings record. This support system aims to provide financial stability and access to medical care for individuals who are unable to sustain employment due to their disabilities.


SSI is a federal program that offers financial assistance to individuals who are disabled, blind, or aged (65 or older) and have limited income and resources. Unlike SSDI, which is based on work history and payroll tax contributions, SSI is strictly needs-based and does not require recipients to have a prior work history. 

This makes SSI accessible to individuals who have not worked long enough to qualify for SSDI, such as children, young adults who have not yet entered the workforce, or individuals who have been homemakers.

Eligibility for SSI is determined based on income. Applicants must have limited income and resources.

  • Income: wages, Social Security benefits and pensions
  • Resources: cash, bank accounts, and real estate (other than the home they live in)

The resource limits are set by the federal government. As of 2024, the limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple.

SSI benefits provide a monthly stipend intended to help cover basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The amount received varies depending on the recipient’s income, living arrangements, and other factors. Some states supplement the federal SSI payment with additional funds, which can increase the overall benefit amount.

In addition to financial assistance, SSI recipients may also qualify for Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to low-income individuals. Medicaid eligibility usually starts immediately upon qualifying for SSI, ensuring that recipients have access to essential healthcare services without a waiting period. This comprehensive support aims to help individuals with disabilities maintain a basic standard of living and access necessary medical care.

Benefits of Receiving Disability

Financial Assistance

Receiving disability benefits can provide crucial financial support. SSDI recipients receive a monthly benefit based on their average lifetime earnings. SSI recipients receive a monthly stipend designed to help meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. These payments are essential for many who are unable to work due to their disabilities.

Access to Healthcare

Disability benefits also provide access to vital healthcare services. SSDI beneficiaries are usually eligible for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period, while SSI recipients can receive Medicaid, which often starts immediately upon qualification. These healthcare benefits ensure that individuals can access necessary medical care without the burden of exorbitant costs.

Additional Resources and Services

In addition to financial and healthcare benefits, recipients may also have access to various resources and services designed to help them live independently and improve their quality of life. These can include vocational rehabilitation services, job training programs, and support services like counseling and assistive technology.

Qualifying for Disability

To qualify for SSDI or SSI, applicants must meet specific medical and non-medical criteria. Medically, the applicant must have a condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disability. Non-medical criteria include work history for SSDI or income and resource limits for SSI.

Medical Evidence Requirements

Applicants must provide comprehensive medical documentation to support their claim. This can include things like:

  • Medical records
  • Doctor’s notes
  • Lab results
  • Other relevant information that demonstrates the severity and expected duration of the impairment

The Disability Determination Process

The SSA evaluates applications through a five-step process to determine eligibility. This process assesses whether the applicant is currently working, the severity of the impairment, if the condition meets or equals a listed impairment, the applicant’s ability to perform past work, and their capacity to adjust to other work.

Applying for Disability

The application process for disability benefits involves several steps:

  1. Initial Application: Applicants can apply online, by phone, or in person at a Social Security office. They must provide detailed information about their medical condition, work history, and personal details.
    1. Apply for SSDI online here: 
    2. Apply for SSI online here: 
  2. Medical Documentation: Alongside the application, applicants must submit medical records and other evidence of their disability.
  3. SSA Review: The SSA reviews the application and may request additional information or medical exams.
  4. Decision: The SSA issues a decision based on the evidence provided. If approved, benefits begin; if denied, applicants can appeal the decision.

Common Challenges of Applying for Disability

Many applications are denied initially due to insufficient medical evidence or failure to meet non-medical criteria. Applicants should ensure their medical documentation is thorough and accurate. If denied, it’s important to understand the appeal process, which includes reconsideration, a hearing before an administrative law judge, and further appeals if necessary.

Working While on Disability

Working while receiving disability benefits can affect the amount and continuation of those benefits. 

Trial Work Period (TWP)

The Trial Work Period (TWP) allows SSDI beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months without losing their benefits, regardless of how much they earn. During the TWP, beneficiaries continue to receive full SSDI benefits as long as they report their work activity and their disabling condition does not improve. 

The TWP months do not need to be consecutive but must occur within a rolling 60-month period. As of 2024, a month counts as a trial work month if the beneficiary earns more than $1,050. This program encourages beneficiaries to attempt re-entering the workforce without the fear of an immediate loss of benefits.

Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

After the TWP, beneficiaries enter the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), which lasts for 36 consecutive months. During the EPE, beneficiaries can still receive their SSDI benefits for any month in which their earnings do not exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit. The SGA limit, which is adjusted annually, represents the maximum amount a disabled person can earn while still being considered disabled by the SSA. 

As of 2024, the SGA limit is $1,470 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,460 per month for blind individuals. If a beneficiary’s earnings exceed the SGA limit in any month during the EPE, their benefits will be suspended for that month. However, if their earnings fall below the SGA limit again, their benefits will be reinstated without the need for a new application.

Work Incentives and Programs

There are several programs designed to encourage and support beneficiaries who wish to return to work:

  • Ticket to Work Program: This program provides beneficiaries with free employment services such as vocational rehabilitation, job training, and job placement.
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS): PASS allows beneficiaries to set aside income and resources for a specific work goal, like starting a business or going back to school.
  • Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE): These are expenses for items and services needed to work that are related to the beneficiary’s impairment, which can be deducted from their earnings when determining SGA.

Reporting Income and Work Activity

Beneficiaries must report any changes in their work activity to the SSA promptly. Several types of changes need to be reported to the SSA, including:

  • Changes in Medical Condition: Improvements or worsening of the condition must be reported.
  • Changes in Employment Status or Income: Starting a new job, changes in work hours, or changes in income should be reported.
  • Other Relevant Changes: Changes in living arrangements, marital status, or financial resources should also be reported.

How to Report Changes

Beneficiaries can report changes in several ways:

  • Online: Through the SSA’s website using their account.
  • By Phone: Calling the SSA’s toll-free number 1-800-772-1213.
  • In Person: Visiting a local Social Security office. Proper documentation, such as pay stubs or medical records, should be provided to support the reported changes.


Balancing work while receiving disability benefits can be complex, but with the right information and resources, it is possible to navigate this journey successfully. Now that you have an understanding of the key aspects of working while on disability, from understanding the benefits and qualifying criteria to managing employment and reporting changes, you may be better suited to make empowered decisions about your work and benefits.

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