How Much Money Can You Make and Still Get SSDI in Pennsylvania?
Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, is a federal program meant to provide resources for those who struggle with medical conditions that impact their ability to earn income. These benefits apply even to those who can work in some capacity.
However, the amount that these individuals earn plays a big role in determining their eligibility for the program. The determining threshold shifts every year, and the way that it is assessed is complicated, so legal representation is critical in securing your access to benefits.
Call (215) 515-2954 to get immediate help from the dedicated Pennsylvania disability attorneys at Young, Marr, Mallis & Deane by way of a free initial case evaluation.
What is SSDI?
SSDI is a source of relief for those who struggle to earn income as a result of a medical condition. SSDI benefits are federally funded and administered by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Social Security pays disability benefits to you and certain members of your family if you have worked long enough and have a medical condition that prevents you from working for at least 12 months or is expected to end in death.
SSDI is an earned benefit, meaning that in order to qualify, you must have previously paid into the program and have accumulated enough credits to be eligible. Credits are dependent on work history. As SSDI is a type of disability insurance, eligibility is also based on the SSA’s medical criteria and determined through an application process.
The amount of SSDI benefits that an applicant can receive is based on lifetime average earnings in employment. Applicants must have worked for a certain amount of time and also must be U.S. citizens or otherwise have lawful alien status.
Can Earning Income Prevent You from Getting SSDI in Pennsylvania?
If you work while receiving disability benefits, you are required to tell the Social Security Administration (SSA), regardless of how much income you earn.
This is because the first step that the SSA takes in evaluating an applicant’s suitability for SSDI is the amount of income they are currently earning. If you are unable to earn an income as a result of your injuries, you do not need to worry about this step.
The key figure that the SSA uses when determining if an applicant earns enough to disqualify them from the SSDI program is called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Employment that provides income above a certain threshold will be considered SGA, which would rule out the opportunity to receive SSDI benefits.
The SGA limit is adjusted annually to reflect changes in national average wages. In 2022, the SGA rose from $1,310 to $1,350 per month for most disabilities. For applicants who are blind or have a vision-impairing disability, the SGA is $2,260 in 2022 (up from $2,190 in 2021). If you make more than the applicable SGA to your situation, your application for SSDI benefits will be denied. If you already are receiving benefits, you’ll lose them in most circumstances if your income rises above the cap.
Despite these SGA rules, trial work period rules listed below might create lower income limits that you have to follow.
Exceptions to the SGA Bar from SSDI Benefits in Pennsylvania
Disabled SSDI beneficiaries may reduce their income for SGA purposes by deducting some expenses for products and services that enable them to work, such paratransit, assistive technology, medication or a service animal.
Remember that SGA is supposed to be based on how much you earn, not how much you are paid. If you are forced to incur certain expenses that are related to your disability in order to earn your income, then these costs are rightfully factored into the SSA’s analysis. If deductible expenses bring your monthly wages under the SGA mark, you may be able to continue receiving SSDI benefits.
What is a Trial Work Period for SSDI Benefits in Pennsylvania?
All applicants are permitted unlimited earnings during a trial work period. The trial period lasts up to nine months, during which time you can still receive full SSDI benefits. These nine months do not have to happen consecutively and can be spread out over a total period of five years. However, once a cumulative total of nine working months has passed, the SSA will reassess your status to determine whether you are still entitled to receive disability benefits.
Like with the SGA calculus, the SSA reviewers use a sliding figure to determine eligibility for SSDI benefits at the conclusion of the trial work period. It is likely that, if an applicant earns more than the SGA mark, the SSA will determine that they are no longer eligible for SSDI benefits.
Generally, a trial work period is triggered in any month where you make at least $970 (as of 2022). Talk to a Lehigh County, PA disability attorney if you are planning to make at least this much money while working.
How Does the Government Decide Who Qualifies for SSDI in Pennsylvania?
In general, in order to qualify for SSDI, you must meet the following criteria:
- You are unable to work and engage in SGA due to your medical situation.
- You are not able to conduct the type of work you did before, or you are not able to do any other type of work as a result of your disability.
- Your condition has had or is expected to have a duration of at least 12 months, or to result in death.
You should bear in mind that there are special considerations and slightly different eligibility criteria for people who are blind, widows or widowers of workers, children with disabilities, and veterans. With these criteria, the state agency makes its decision using the following five lines of questioning, moving through them in consecutive order.
Are You Currently Working and Earning Income?
This first step is the stage where the SSA evaluates whether you are earning an SGA. If you are not working, or if you are working and earning an average monthly income of less than the SGA mark, the SSA will proceed to the next step in their analysis.
How Severe Is Your Condition?
Under the SSA’s definition, to have a disability, your ability to do basic work activities must be significantly limited for at least 12 months. These include walking, sitting, standing, lifting, and memory abilities. If your condition does not substantially impair these basic abilities, you won’t be considered to have a disability. If your condition is considered severe under these criteria, the agency moves to the next step in the evaluation.
Does Your Condition Meet or Medically Equal a Listing?
The SSA uses a listing of medical conditions that has been created in consultation with medical experts. These conditions are considered severe enough to prevent someone from being able to carry out work activities. The state uses this list to determine if you have a disability by confirming if your condition meets or is equal in severity and duration to a listing and its criteria. If this is not the case, the state continues on to step four of the evaluation.
Can You Do the Work You Did Before?
This stage of the evaluation determines whether you are able to continue on with any of your past work, given your medical situation. If your medical situation does not prevent this, the state will determine that you do not have a disability that qualifies for SSDI. If your medical situation does interfere with the ability to carry out past work activities, the evaluation moves to step five.
Can You Do Any Other Type of Work?
At the final stage of the evaluation, the state considers whether you are able to carry out other types of work, based on age, education, past work experience, and skills. If they find you are able to do other work, you will not qualify for SSDI. To determine this, the SSA may require that you submit to periodic medical evaluations from a physician of their choosing. If they find that you are not able to do other work, you will be considered to have a qualifying disability.
What Can You Do if the Government Takes You Off SSDI Benefits for Making Too Much Money?
If the SSA rejects your application for SSDI or terminates your existing disability status, you have the ability to appeal the decision. There are four levels of appeal where you can dispute a decision about any aspect of your SSDI review, including whether you meet the threshold for SGA that bars your access to benefits. These four levels of appeal are reconsideration, administrative hearing, Appeals Council review, and a civil action in federal court.
When you request reconsideration of an SSA decision, you will receive a complete review of your claim by a government agent who was not a part of the decision that you initially received. The reconsideration will consider all of the information that you submitted for your first application, plus any other new information that the government acquires. Additionally, you are also free to submit new evidence, like letters from physicians, that you think could clear up misunderstandings that may have led to the original adverse decision.
Your hearing will occur in front of an administrative law judge who was not a part of either of the first two stages of decisions. Once you notify your local SSA office of your wish to appeal, the office will set a hearing date and provide you information about the process. You may be asked to submit to a new medical examination as part of the hearing process.
If the administrative hearing does not get you the result that you want, your next step is bringing your case directly to the SSA’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will first choose whether to grant or deny your request for review. If they grant the review, they may issue a new decision or return your case to a new administrative judge to resolve the issues. If the Appeals Council denies your review, however, you still have one option left to pursue your access to SSDI benefits.
If you disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision on your case, or if the Appeals Council denies your request for review, you and your Springfield disability attorney can file a civil action in federal district court.
What Happens to Your Payments While You Appeal an SSA Decision?
If you properly appeal a decision on your disability payments within a certain allotted time frame, you can get continued access to your benefits while the appeal is pending. This is different depending on the reason for the appeal.
For instance, if you are appealing the government’s decision to take you off of SSDI benefits because you are earning income above the SGA mark, and you file an appeal of the decision within 60 days of the date that you receive notice of the decision, you will continue to receive payments at the same rate for the duration of the appeal.
However, if your appeal is not successful, you may be responsible for paying back any money that you would not have received if you did not appeal. You may also lose access to any medical assistance that you were receiving through your SSDI benefits during the appeal period.
How Can a Pennsylvania Disability Lawyer Help You Get or Keep SSDI Benefits?
Though programs like Social Security and SSDI are created for your benefit, they are hardly user-friendly. The program is riddled with fine print and specific language that can be difficult to navigate, particularly if you are already dealing with a medical condition that causes you difficulty.
That is why it can be helpful to use the services of a seasoned Quakertown disability attorney in helping you to apply for disability benefits. Applications with mistakes can cause delays in the review process that some applicants simply cannot afford. To get the benefits that you need to support you through your condition, you will want to give yourself the best possible chance of success on the first try.
Your lawyer can also help you if your application is rejected or if your existing SSDI benefits are terminated for any reason. You are permitted to have legal representation not just on appeals to federal courts, but all the way through the review process, starting with reconsideration.
Contact Young, Marr, Mallis & Deane for Help Assessing Your Disability Benefits Status in PA
If you are struggling with your medical condition and need help dealing with Social Security, contact our seasoned Philadelphia disability lawyers at (215) 515-2954 to get a free initial case evaluation.