Frequently Asked Questions

(SSI & SSDI)
Will I lose my cash benefits if I go to work?

Not necessarily. Most individuals are much better off if they are living on earnings instead of disability benefits. There are work incentives that will allow you to try working before losing all of your benefits. If you decide to move from public benefits to employment, you can work with a Certified Benefits Counselor who will look at your particular circumstances and help you use SSA’s work incentives and safety nets. Then you can make the best decision for your circumstances and preferences.

If your disability worsens or if you decide you are no longer able to work, Social Security has several built-in safety nets that can help you receive benefits again without the need to re-apply.

How much can I earn and still keep my benefits?

This is often the first question people ask. Part of the answer depends on whether you are receiving Title II Benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security has set up different work incentives and safety net for each of these programs.

If you are receiving both SSI and SSDI, you will be able to use both sets of incentives. A Certified Benefits Counselor can talk with you about your own benefits and work goals to help you understand more.

If I lose my SSI payment, will I lose my Medical Assistance?

Not necessarily. If your SSI payment is reduced to $0 by your earnings, the 1619(b) rule may  enable you to keep Medical Assistance as long as (1) your earnings  stay below the Maryland State Threshold or a higher individual threshold if your medical expenses are higher than average and/or you receive publicly-funded attendant care, (2) you continue to meet the other requirements for SSI (not medically improved, not  exceeding limits on resources or unearned income) and (3) you continue to use Medical  Assistance at least annually. If you lose SSI for reasons other than earnings (e.g., you receive too much unearned income or you medically improve), however, 1619(b) will not protect your Medical Assistance.

For More information:

http://www.vcu-ntc.org/resources/WIPA_OtherResources/1619%28b%29%20Factsheet%202015.pdf

Can I use more than one SSI work incentive at a time?

Yes. For example, you may use a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) for expenses to reach a work goal and Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) for continuing, work-related expenses incurred due to your disability. If you are a student under age 22, you may use the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) at the same time you use a PASS or IRWE’s.

Can I use a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) if I don't already receive SSI?

In some cases, yes. If you receive too much unearned income (such as SSDI) to ordinarily qualify for SSI, you may use a PASS to reduce your “countable” unearned income low enough for you to meet the SSI income limits. A PASS helps you qualify for SSI in this situation. By qualifying for SSI, you are also automatically eligible for Medical Assistance (Medicaid). A PASS may also be used to exclude countable resources by designating them for PASS expenses. This can also help you qualify for SSI.

Can I use Blind Work Expenses (BWE) to qualify for SSI?

Yes. If you meet all the other criteria for SSI eligibility (disability, resource limit, unearned income limit) but receive earnings too high to qualify for SSI, you may use BWE to reduce your countable earnings low enough to receive a SSI payment and Medical Assistance.

For more information:

http://www.vcu-ntc.org/resources/WIPA_OtherResources/Disability%20Program%20Differences%20for%20Blind%20Individuals%202015.pdf

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The Social Security Administration defines “substantial gainful activity” or SGA as the performance of significant physical and/or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit, regardless of the legality of the work. Within the context of this definition, each of the following words or phrases has a specific meaning:

  • “Significant activities” are useful in the accomplishment of a job or the operation of a business, and have economic value.
  • Work may be considered “substantial” even if it is performed on a part-time basis, or even if the individual does less, is paid less, or has less responsibility than in previous work.
  • Work activity is “gainful” if it is the kind of work usually done for pay, whether in cash or in kind, or for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.

For more information:

http://www.vcu-ntc.org/resources/WIPA_OtherResources/Understanding%20SGA%20Questions%20_%20Answers%202016.pdf

 

How does the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) help me?

During the 36-month EPE, you may receive your Title II payment any time your earnings fall below SGA without reapplying. This is especially helpful for people who need more than the 9-month Trial Work Period (TWP) to be sure they can succeed in a job. For example, a SSDI beneficiary who has not worked since s/he became eligible for SSDI starts a job earning above SGA. The first nine months would be his/her Trial Work Period, and s/he would keep SSDI payments. The next three months would be his/her Grace Period, and s/he would still keep SSDI payments. The next 33 months would be the remainder of his/her EPE, and s/he would not receive SSDI. However, if his/ her earnings fell below SGA any month during (or the month after) the EPE, s/he would get SSDI back without reapplying. In short, the worker would have 45 months (the 9-month TWP plus the 36-month EPE) to “prove” himself/herself on a job before risking the permanent loss of SSDI.

If I receive both SSI and SSDI, can I use SSI and SSDI work incentives at the same time?

Yes. In fact, if any of your work-related expenses qualify as IRWE’s (needed for work, incurred due to disability, paid for by individual and not reimbursed, of reasonable cost), you may use the same expense to both reduce your countable earnings (to keep more SSI) and to keep earnings below SGA (to keep SSDI).

If I go to work and lose my benefits, can I get them back if I can't continue to work?

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) of 1999 created an important work incentive called Expedited Reinstatement (EXR). EXR is a way for a beneficiary to return more quickly to Social Security disability benefits when his or her work significantly reduces or stops. The former beneficiary must have the same or a related disability as the earlier entitlement, and the person must again be unable to perform SGA. EXR permits individuals to receive provisional payments while Social Security is processing the reinstatement request.

For more information:

http://www.vcu-ntc.org/resources/WIPA_OtherResources/Understanding%20EXR%202016.pdf

BEST Practices: SSA Unveils Reference Guide on Benefits Eligibility

In a recent announcement Social Security has drawn our attention to an on-line guide for anyone with limited means who’s looking to see what benefits they may qualify for. The Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST), which can be accessed here Welcome to SSA BEST |...

Medicare Website Now More User-Friendly

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have been working on improvements to their www.medicare.gov website in the past year and have given it something of a new look. Reportedly having listened to feedback from those that visit the site the updates are...

CMS Effectively Extends Medicare General Enrollment Period to the End of 2022

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had acknowledged that many Medicare beneficiaries may not have been able to enroll or disenroll in Medicare Part B and premium Part A plans during the normal General Enrollment Period owing to issues over being able...

Job Alert: SOAR Specialist Needed

The SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery (SOAR) Initiative has been helping individuals who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, negotiate the complicated and arduous process of applying for SSI and SSDI benefits. SOAR specialists have established an expedited...

Change in Survivor’s Benefits Rules Grants Eligibility to Same-sex Partners

As the result of two class action lawsuits that were successfully brought by the surviving partners of same-sex relationships Social Security has changed its policy on eligibility for Survivor's Benefits. Helen Thornton was in a long-term relationship with her...

MD-EN is Hiring!

Our sister organization, the Maryland Employment Network, is currently looking to hire a Career Consultant. Here’s all the wonderful things they have to say about the position: This full-time, contractual position is highly independent and requires that candidates...

Journey of a Thousand Miles: Take the First Step in the SSI Application Process On-line

There is now another on-line option available to us as Social Security continues to adapt its practices to meet our current way of living. The agency now offers anyone who wants to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) the chance to set off on the long road to...

Social Security Offices Are Open for Business!

In their weekly blog the Social Security Administration just announced that they would be opening all local offices to customers without appointments as of April 7. Rightly fearing a deluge of customers, they also wanted to ward us off by encouraging us to still use...

Work Break: Update on The Earned Income Tax Credit

Tax deadline day is fast approaching so it would certainly seem to be an appropriate time to highlight a little tax break that’s out there for those of us who are working and have ‘low to moderate’ income, in the parlance of the IRS. The Earned Income Tax Credit...

Affordable Connectivity Program: Helping Households with Broadband Costs

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which is expected to be a long-term replacement to the Emergent Broadband Benefit (EBB) that came into being during the pandemic. The purpose of the ACP is to...