If you currently receive Social Security Disability benefits, you may be feeling reluctant to return to work for fear that it can have a negative effect on your SSDI, SSI, Medicare, or any of the other benefits that you are receiving.
The approval process for Social Security Disability is notoriously long and difficult which makes it understandable why you may be reluctant to repeat the process again.
How to Determine if You’re Eligible to Return to Work
Some people mistakenly view receiving Social Security Disability benefits as a permanent decision. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s Ticket to Work program was specifically designed to help individuals with disabilities reach their full potential by putting them back on the path to financial independence. If you are currently receiving benefits, you are already qualified to participate in the Ticket to Work program.
What to Expect Upon Returning to Work
Once you inform the SSA of your intention to return to work, you will be assigned a trial period. This period will allow you to work for nine months while still retaining your Social Security Disability benefits. However, it’s important to note that the amount of benefits paid to you will be adjusted based on how much you earn.
The trial program originated on the basis that it’s meant to encourage workers who may be hesitant otherwise to take steps towards returning to work. It’s recommended that you keep in touch with the SSA during this trial period to communicate any difficulties that you experience in returning to work to keep them on record.
The Extended Period of Eligibility refers to the 36 month period that allows you to start and stop your benefits without reapplying after the conclusion of the initial 9 month trial. This period involves receiving full benefits for the first 3 months and 33 months of receiving benefits if your earnings from work drop below a certain level.
Medicare coverage continues for up to 93 consecutive months after the conclusion of the 9 month trial period.
In many cases, if your return to work is unsuccessful, you do not need to re-qualify for Social Security Disability benefits within the first five years of returning to work. You will simply be placed into the program you previously qualified for again.
Finding Support Through Employment Networks
Employment Networks offer a range of free support services through an agreement with the SSA. These groups can be a public or private organization, partnership/ alliance, or even just an individual. Employment Networks can offer guidance on how to improve energy and stamina when returning to a full-time position as well as how to discuss potential job accommodations with employers. Some groups help specific groups of people while others are dedicated to providing specialized support services.
Employment Networks are also a great resource to take advantage of to be sure that you’re complying with the SSA’s reporting process to help protect your benefits for the long-term. The Ticket to Work website features a Find Help webpage which allows you to identify and connect with an Employment Network for support.
The Importance of Communicating with the SSA
It’s incredibly important to notify the SSA of your intention to return to work. Failure to notify the SSA and continuing to receive benefits while being employed can result in consequences that may include prison time on the basis of being guilty of fraud.
If you return to work and find that your benefits have not been reduced, notify the SSA as soon as possible. Refrain from spending the additional money because it’s likely that you will need to return it. It’s recommended to keep the money in a separate savings account until you receive instructions to either return it or have written notice that you can keep it.
Additional Things to Consider
It’s important to have reasonable ideas about what your working life may look like going forward. You may need to adjust previous expectations for your career. It’s important to access your abilities and limitations objectively. What tasks may be difficult to perform? Do you have reliable transportation? A lot may have changed since the last time you held a steady job.
If you require specific accommodations to be comfortable and productive at work, speak up about them. Be open and honest about your needs when speaking to your supervisor or human resources department. You may want to make your requests in writing so there can be a formal record on file.
Conversations about accommodations can be difficult to have. Let your employer know that you’re excited to be returning to work and remember that communicating honestly and respectfully will create the most positive outcome for everyone involved.
A disability is not a sentence for a lifetime of unemployment and it doesn’t define who you are. Becoming proactive about your desire to work again is an incredible first step to take when adding value to your life and livelihood.