SSDI Income Limits in Pennsylvania

If you are disabled, you may be eligible for monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments. To qualify for SSDI, your condition must be serious enough to limit your ability to earn a living. Earning a living does not necessarily mean you cannot work – you may still work and earn some money while receiving SSDI benefits.

However, there are strict income limits in place, and your ability to work may disqualify you from receiving SSDI benefits. Our Philadelphia disability lawyers will help you understand the SSDI income limits for 2021.

If you or a loved one receives or is considering applying for disability benefits through SSDI, call Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates today for a free consultation with our Pennsylvania SSDI lawyers.  Call us today at (215) 515-2954.

Pennsylvania SSDI Requirements and Limits in 2021

You must meet several requirements set by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to qualify for SSDI benefits. Your physical or mental disability must substantially limit your ability to support yourself financially. If you are capable of earning a living, the SSA will reject your disability claim.

The SSA defines being able to support yourself financially as “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). Last year, the SGA threshold was $1,260 a month. The SSA has increased the SGA amount to $1,310 per month for 2021.

If you are blind, the threshold is higher. Last year, the income limit for a blind person is $2,110 per month. This limit will increase to $2,190 per month for 2021.

SSDI is designed to be a system that only provides benefits to those who cannot otherwise support themselves.  However, these limits are not always fair.  Many people in many places in Pennsylvania find it difficult to pay for rent, groceries, daily expenses, medical care, and other costs with disability benefits alone.  As such, many people seek side jobs and extra income, but it is important to be careful and make sure that that income does not peak too high.  In practice, the restriction on outside income is even lower than the SGA limit because of trial work period rules.

Trial Work Period Limits for SSDI in Pennsylvania

If you are applying for disability benefits in Pennsylvania for Lupus or other medical condition, that medical condition must limit your ability to support yourself financially. However, the SSA allows you to earn income under a “trial work period” (TWP). The purpose of the trial work period is to ease you back into the workforce. The TWP allows you to work and earn income while still collecting your disability benefits.

The trial work period allows you to work, testing whether or not you can once again support yourself financially. Earning nine months of a particular income threshold may stop your benefits, but a TWP may be good for short-term employment while you receive disability. The monthly income threshold for last year was $910. This threshold increased to $940 in 2021.

Therefore, any month you earn $940 or more outside of your disability payments will count towards one of your nine TWP months. If you exceed nine months of which you are earning an excess of $940, you will no longer be able to continue working and collecting benefits for your disability simultaneously. If you are self-employed, there is an additional limit of working 80 hours per month. Earning less than $940 should not count towards the TWP, but you must still report all income from work to the SSA.

If you are currently working while collecting disability benefits or you plan on returning to work, you need to be aware of all the potential consequences of working while on disability. Call our Pennsylvania disability attorneys to ensure you are not jeopardizing your benefits and to learn how to properly report your income and expenses to the SSA.

Earning Income in 2021 While Collecting Social Security Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania

If you receive SSDI and earn money on the side, you will trigger a trial work period any time you cross the TWP threshold.  If at any point you make more money than the SGA limit, you risk losing your benefits altogether.  Some disability beneficiaries may be allowed to make additional income with no limit during their TWP and then get an additional 36-month extended work period where they are limited by the SGA limit instead of the TWP limit.

At other times, making money under the TWP limit is usually allowed.  However, the money you make could lead to you being “overpaid,” and the SSA might reduce your benefits commensurately.  Talk to a lawyer for more information about how making money while on SSDI affects your benefits.

Most times when the SSA looks at your income levels, they look at your net income after work-related expenses.  This means that if you need medical transportation to get to work, that cost could be deducted from your income before the SSA looks at the amount of money you made.  Talk to an SSDI lawyer in Bucks County for additional details on how these calculations are made.

Payment Amounts for Disability Recipients in Pennsylvania (2021)

The amount you receive through SSDI is usually the same as the amount you would receive under Social Security retirement benefits if you were at full retirement age.  This means it is often possible to look at each year’s average payments and maximum payments to determine how much you should receive in benefits.  While your specific benefit amount will depend on how much you earned during your working years, looking at the averages and maximums can still be helpful.

In 2021, the average disability benefit is $1,277 per month and the maximum payment is $3,148 per month (if you are able to attain the required level of income to reach this benefit amount).  This means that, across the whole year, the average disability recipient will receive approximately $15,324 in benefits and the highest earners will receive $37,776.

In addition, families can often receive additional benefits of 50-80% to help support a spouse or minor children.  This could potentially increase your benefits even higher.

Additional Requirements for Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania

The SGA income threshold is one factor in determining whether you qualify for SSDI benefits, but the SSA will also look at factors such as the severity of your condition. Your disability must be severe enough to limit your ability to support yourself financially. Additionally, your condition must be expected to last more than twelve months or result in death. The SSA publishes a manual of impairments that lists the medical conditions that qualify for SSDI benefits. Known as the “Blue Book,” this publication is available online and contains specific definitions of each qualifying condition, allowing you to determine whether your condition is severe enough to meet the SSA’s standards. While some of these definitions match with typical medical or mental health definitions, some are more strict so that only severe instances of that condition qualify. Talk to a disability lawyer for help understanding whether your condition is “severe enough” to apply for disability benefits in Pennsylvania.

You must also have also earned enough work credits to be eligible for SSDI benefits. Work credits are the measurement unit of time the SSA uses to determine if you qualify for social security benefits. Workers accrue work credits when they pay their Social Security taxes over the years they spend working before their disability. On average, you will need 40 work credits – 20 of which were earned in the previous 10 years – to qualify for disability benefits.

The Allentown disability lawyers at Young Marr & Associates will help you determine if you are eligible for disability benefits.

Income and Wealth Limits for Disabled Pennsylvanians

If you are on disability, the SSA’s rules are not always fair or just when it comes to additional income.  Many disabled Pennsylvanians find themselves able to work to some extent and earn a bit of income on the side – or they invest their small earnings and get additional money.  Unfortunately, even side gigs and investments could potentially put your benefits at risk.

If at any point the SSA finds out that you have too much income or earnings, they could cut off or suspend your disability benefits.  As mentioned, earning beyond the SGA limit can put your benefits in jeopardy if the SSA thinks that that income means you are not “disabled enough.”  If you work through a trial work period and the SSA sees evidence that the TWP went well and you were indeed able to work, they may take that as evidence that you no longer need disability benefits.

The same is true for other income and earnings, even if they are not tied to work.  You could be unable to work and you could check every box to qualify for disability benefits, but if you make too much money from investments or other incomes, your benefits could be cut off entirely.

It is absolutely vital to talk to a disability attorney about your sources and levels of income when considering applying to SSDI or when considering investing while disabled.  In some cases, there may be legal ways to put your money into a special needs trust, especially when it comes to providing care for a disabled child instead of yourself.  This allows money to be dispersed from the trust at levels that will not hurt your qualifications for SSDI but will still provide you with extra income to cover day-to-day expenses and luxuries.

Ultimately, if your other incomes allow you to make more than your SSDI benefits, you may be better off coming off disability and making money yourself rather than following SSDI restrictions.  Talk to a lawyer about weighing your options and deciding whether SSDI’s limitations are worth it for your condition.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Student Income Exclusion

If you are a student who is under the age of twenty-two, receiving SSI benefits, who is enrolled in school full-time, you might qualify for an earned income exclusion. In 2021, this exclusion will apply to your first $1,930 of income. This exclusion has increased by $30 from last year. The annual limit for the full-time student exclusion increases to $7,700 in 2021 – a $100 increase.

When do Income Limits Change in Pennsylvania?

Both SGA and TWP limits change from year to year.  Every calendar year, the Social Security Administration does calculations based on inflation and other factors to make a “cost of living adjustment” (COLA) to both the limitations and payments the SSA is involved with.  Usually, this means increasing the cap a percentage point or more.

From 2020 to 2021, the COLA went up 1.3%.  This means payments and limits were increased about 1.3% – though some numbers are based on other calculations where only factors within that calculation went up 1.3%.  This could result in a lower increase.

Income limits also go up on an individual basis because of certain factors or events related to your disability.  For instance, if you participate in a “Ticket to Work” program and start a trial work period, you could have your income limit lifted or even removed during the 9-month TWP period.  After that, you could be eligible for another 36 months of increased work limits where you are allowed to make money over the TWP limit as long as you don’t go beyond the SGA limit.

Talk to an SSDI lawyer about the specific limitations in your case.

More Online Appeals if Your Pennsylvania SSDI Application is Denied

Anyone who has gone through or read about the disability benefits process knows that applying for Social Security Disability benefits is challenging and frustrating. More than half of all initial claims are denied by the SSA. Therefore, appealing a denied application is almost a required step.

The Social Security Administration will now permit claimants to request a review at the Appeals Council level by submitting their request online. The Appeals Council is the third step in the appellate process. The first step is requesting a reconsideration of your initial application and the second step is a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). You are also entitled to request both of these types of appeals online as well.

The Appeals Council will evaluate all review requests. However, a request could be denied if the Council believes the ALJ’s decision was supported by evidence and in accordance with the law. If the Appeals Council denies your appeal, your final step is filing a claim in Federal District court.

Additional Conditions Added to Compassionate Allowance Program

The Compassionate Allowance (CAL) program was developed in 2008 to address concerns of severely disabled individuals who were required to wait months or years to navigate the Social Security Disability benefits process.

Through the program, the SSA hopes to identify the most serious claims that are submitted so they can be expedited through the review process. In some cases, a Compassionate Allowance claim could be approved in as few as ten days. You still must provide a diagnosis and medical documentation to support your condition.

When the program began, about 50 conditions were listed. However, over the years, the SSA has periodically increased the number of diseases and impairments that qualify for CAL. New conditions are added through comments received from the Disability Determination Service, advice from medical and scientific experts, research and findings from the National Institutes of Health, and information received from the general public.

Nonetheless, not all severe conditions qualify under Compassionate Allowance. It is important to work with our experienced Doylestown disability lawyers to determine if your condition would qualify and your application is eligible for expedited review.

In 2021, the SSA has added new conditions to the list.

  • Charlevoix Saguenay Spastic Ataxia
  • Desmoplastic Mesothelioma
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma
  • SCN8A Related Epilepsy with Encephalopathy
  • Refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • CIC-rearranged Sarcoma
  • Taybi-Linder Syndrome
  • Renpenning’s Syndrome
  • Congenital Zika Syndrome
  • Choroid Plexus Carcinoma
  • Congenital Zika Syndrome
  • Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
  • SYNGAP1-related NSID

Proposed Changes to Supplemental Security Income

In 2021, the SS Restoration Act was introduced in both houses of Congress. This bill seeks to amend the eligibility requirements for Supplemental Security Income benefits. The changes will impact claimants who are sixty-five or older, blind, or disabled.

The SSA administers the SSI program. The purpose of the program is to provide monthly benefits to individuals who have limited resources and income. The primary difference between SSI and SSDI is SSI does not require a claimant to have a work history or to have paid into the Social Security system. However, the SSA does impose very stringent financial requirements. The SS Restoration Act purposes to amend those eligibility requirements.

The first proposal is to increase the resource limit. Currently, to be eligible for SSI, an individual’s resources cannot exceed $2,000. For a couple, the limit is $3,000. The bill proposes to increase those limits to $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Under the current rules, a claimant has an earned income exclusion for the first $20 earned. For a couple, this amount is $65. The proposal would increase these amounts to $213 for an individual and $399 for a couple.

The bill would also impose automatic adjustments to the resource limit and income exclusions to account for inflation in the future. The bill would also eliminate consideration of in-kind support from countable income. These income and resources eligibility requirements would increase the number of qualified people who would otherwise be denied SSI benefits under the existing rules. Please note that these are proposed changes. If you have any questions regarding the current requirements, contact our Quakertown disability lawyers.

Other Changes to Social Security in 2021

In 2020, individuals contributed 6.2% of their earnings to Social Security. However, any income over $137,700 was not taxable. This benefited higher-income earners. In 2021, the taxable income increased to $142,800. The SSA predicts that this will impact approximately 12 million workers out of the 175 million that pay into Social Security.

The most significant change is the increase in the full retirement age for people hoping to claim benefits. Full retirement age (FRA) is the standard the SSA uses to measure when a worker should consider applying for their Social Security benefits. While you are permitted to start claiming benefits between the ages of sixty-two and seventy, your benefits will not be penalized or reduced if you wait until your FRA.

In January 2021, the full retirement age increased to sixty-six and ten months for people born in 1959. This is two months more than for people born in 1958. The increase is part of an overall plan to slowly increase the FRA from sixty-five to sixty-seven. Two months will be added per year until the FRA for those born in 1960 will be sixty-seven.

Call a Pennsylvania Disability Attorney About Your Benefits and Their Income Restrictions

If you or a loved one is disabled, you must talk to a disability attorney about your benefits and their restrictions. Our attorneys can help you if you are working, or are attempting to work while collecting disability benefits. To schedule a free consultation with our West Chester disability lawyers to review your benefits or your ability to work, contact us today. Call Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates at (215) 515-2954.

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