Can You Work While Receiving Disability Benefits?

The language surrounding social security benefits can be ambiguous and confusing.  On one hand, the Social Security Administration wants to ensure that claimants are so severely disabled that it prevents them from working — but at the same time, the SSA also notes that disability applicants should not be earning in excess of certain monthly thresholds.  Some disability claimants end up harming themselves financially because they think they will lose their benefits if they work, but this is not exactly true.  You can work and hold onto your benefits — but you have to be mindful of the SSDI income limits in Pennsylvania.  In this blog post, our disability lawyers will examine the thresholds and earning limits disability applicants must adhere to, and explain some of the rules around combining benefits with employment.

ssdi income lawyer

What Are the Income Limits for SSDI Claimants in 2014 and 2015?

The entire point of disability insurance is to help give financial assistance to people who have difficulty working because of a severe and disabling medical condition.  Therefore, the SSA does not grant benefits to claimants who are deemed capable of earning enough money to comfortably cover their own living expenses.

However, this does not mean that you cannot work at all (though in some cases that may be true). It simply means that your disability must severely limit the extent to which you can perform work, which the SSA broadly dubs “Substantial Gainful Activity,” or SGA.

To help separate those who need financial assistance from those who don’t, the SSA imposes income limits on disability applicants.  It’s very important to note that these limits are not static, but change every year to reflect the ever-changing “Cost of Living Adjustment” (known as COLA), inflation, and other economic fluctuations.  You can view these changes (and get an interesting glimpse into history) by checking the SSA’s SGA table.  The SGA table charts the annual limits on SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance).

For example:

  • 2014, SSDI (non-blind claimants) — $1,070 per month
  • 2015, SSDI (non-blind claimants) — $1,090 per month
  • 2014, SSDI (blind claimants) — $1,800 per month
  • 2015, SSDI (blind claimants) — $1,820 per month

As you can see, the changes are not very dramatic — but they can still make a difference when it comes to applying.


Your Countable Income: How the SSA Calculates the Maximum FBR

The income limit for SSI claimants is technically called the “Federal Benefit Rate” or FBR. Like the income limits for SSDI, the FBR also changes every year:

  • 2014, SSI (single individuals) –$721 per month
  • 2015, SSI (single individuals) — $733 per month
  • 2014, SSI (couples) — $1,082 per month
  • 2015, SSI (couples) — $1,100 per month

However, the calculations which are used to determine whether claimants exceed FBR thresholds can get extremely complex.  While the FBR initially appears very low, there are actually many portions of claimants’ income which the SSA will not count toward the threshold, which means you can exceed the threshold and still qualify for monthly SSI benefits.

As the SSA explains, “Generally, if the item received cannot be used as, or to obtain, food or shelter, it will not be considered as income.”  This is very important, because only “countable income” goes toward the FBR threshold.  Income and items received outside of your countable income are considered to be income exclusions.

For example, the SSA does not count:

  • The first $65 you earn per month.
  • Any work expenses related to your disability.
  • Any income you are setting aside to support yourself with in the future, such as savings.  (The SSA describes this as “Income set aside or being used to pursue a plan for achieving self-support by a disabled or blind individual.”)
  • The first $30 of any irregular or infrequent income you receive in the first quarter of the year.

The above are known as earned income exclusions.  There are also various unearned income exclusions, including:

  • The first $20 per month.
  • Any need-based assistance you receive at the state or municipal level.
  • Any HUD (Housing and Urban Development) rent subsidies.
  • The value of any food stamps you might be receiving.
  • The first $60 of any irregular or infrequent income you receive in the first quarter of the year.

This represents a simplified overview of the way calculations are made.  For a more in-depth breakdown, you can view the SSA’s SSI income calculation page.

If you’re interested in applying for monthly social security benefits, or if your claim has already been denied and you want to appeal the rejection, the experienced Philadelphia disability lawyers of Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates can help.  For a free and private consultation, call our law offices at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania today.  We serve residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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