Yesterday, a reader asked how my employment affects my disability. It’s a long, confusing path, but I’ll try to explain it as concisely as possible.
First, it depends on how much you work. You can earn some without being penalized. Essentially, the SSA doesn’t care until you earn $700 a month.
Once you make that much, the rules kick in. As mentioned, it’s complex, so bear with me.
If you earn more than $700 a month, you begin what’s considered a “Trial Work Period.” This lasts nine (not necessarily consecutive) months out of a 60-month period. The 60-month period is rolling, which just means that, each time you start work, you’re extending the TWP.
One of the things I like, though, is that the TWP is conditional. If your disability means you have to stop working, that job is categorized as an Unsuccessful Work Attempt.
In other words, it doesn’t count toward the nine-month TWP. This means that you can try to work without risking your benefits by being overly optimistic about your abilities. That’s a big deal to most people on disability.
Of course, even before my current job, I already had contract work, so my TWP is over.
I’m in what’s called the Extended Period of Eligibility. The EPE is a three year period where I get a disability check for any months I make under $980 — or whatever that year’s income cap is.
With this job, I make more than that, so I am now about to hit the grace period: three months that I still receive my disability checks. After that, no more checks until my income falls below $980.
Once those three years are up, my benefits officially end.
I still have five years in which I’m eligible for what is called Expedited Reinstatement. Essentially, if my disability causes me to stop working, I ask for a medical review to prove I’m still disabled. I’m eligible for up to six disability checks while the SSA deals with that.
Just so you know, my initial application took 18 months — and that is considered pretty fast, since I had to apply, appeal and then get a hearing — so Expedited Reinstatement is a big deal.
Finally, there’s the subject of Medicare. For 93 months after the Trial Work Period ends, I will continue to receive Medicare. In other words, once you start earning $700 a month, you get eight and a half years (93 months plus nine months) of Medicare coverage.
After that runs out, my disability qualifies me to buy Medicare coverage. The only change would be that I would then be paying for Part A, which is hospital coverage.
Incidentally, if you’re already lost, don’t feel bad. I’ve read this stuff a zillion times and still had to reference the SSA Disability page to write this stuff up. Oh, and I had misunderstood a few things.
For easy reference, I’ll just make this summary:
If you make $700 a month, you get
- Nine-month (out of 60) Trial Work Period. Disability check no matter what. Unsuccessful work attempts don’t count toward TWP.
- Three-year Extended Period of Eligibility. Disability check if earnings are under income cap. (Even after EPE, checks continue until the first month you earn over $980.)
If you earn $980+, you get
- Nine-month Trial Work Period. Disability checks no matter what. Unsuccessful work attempts don’t count toward TWP.
- Three-year Extended Period of Eligibility. Disability checks for three-month grace period.
- Five-year Expedited Reinstatement. Disability checks for up to six months during medical review.