Transitioning from Social Security Disability to Work | A Personal Account
The above picture is a Giffy that simply says "Work"
Social Security Disability and Return to Work
This blog will discuss the transition to work from Social Security Disability. Our goal is to take you through the entire process.
You are on Social Security Disability (SSDI) for a time now and you are thinking you have to go back to work. There are a couple of reasons why a person on SSDI would want to go back to work.
The first reason is that they have recovered from their disability. The second reason is that they are bored with life and need to be productive members of society again. The third is they need more money.
If you have recovered, fantastic! You should by all means get back into the workforce. You shouldn’t have any reservations. Just do it.
Let’s explore the second reason that you are bored and need to be a productive member of society again. That sounds great. The first question you need to ask yourself is do you really believe that you can work? Remember, you spent a lot of time and energy convincing Social Security that you could not work. SSA has accepted the fact that you cannot work, now you are telling them that you can at least do some work.
Think about that just a little. Ask yourself these questions. 1) Can you really go back to work? 2) How important are your Social Security Disability benefits to you? There is a chance that going back to work in any capacity may jeopardize your benefits. 3) Can you live without your SSDI check every month? 4) Can you find a different way to occupy your time and make yourself feel productive? 5) What if I start to work and then I realize I can’t continue?
Now let’s explore the third reason. You cannot live on just your SSDI check. You need more money. You thought that going on SSDI would keep you financially comfortable. This in my opinion is the hardest. The first two reasons didn’t put you into a compelling situation. You can either stay at the status quo of being on SSDI or not. If you do not have enough money to live, you need to do something, right? Right! Let’s think about this. What options do you have? Well, if you are able to do some kind of work, you may need to try. You can also explore other avenues of help. Have you explored food stamps? What about help with your rent. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has programs that give vouchers to people with disabilities called Section 8 Vouchers which are given through your local Public Housing Authority. You can read about this on their website at https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8.
Utilities also have programs for people with very low incomes. My suggestion is that you contact your city’s City Hall and ask for help in identifying these programs.
OK, so you have made your decision to go back to work, now what? What do you do? What is your next step? The first thing you need to do is to decide if you want to work full-time or part-time. For this blog let’s say you are going to work part-time.
Before I go any further, let me tell you that if you are on SSDI and you decide to go back to work, you need to inform Social Security of your intent to do so. You can call them or go to your local SSA office. This is a must. The law says you need to inform SSA if there is any change to your disability, going back to work is a change if you are collecting SSDI. My suggestion is to contact your local SSA office.
Now if you inform SSA that you intend to do limited work and you do not intend to make anywhere near $940 for 2021 which is the trigger to enter the Trial Work Period (TWP), the SSA worker may say to you as long as you are below the $940 for 2021 you do not need to inform them of anything. If you make $940 or more for 2021 you then need to send the SSA a copy of all your pay stubs. MAKE SURE YOU DO THAT BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO. More on this later!
Let’s say that you decided that you want to work part-time. Well, you need to decide If you want to make enough to enter the Trial Work Period or not. What you ask? TWP, what is that? Let me explain.
The www.ssa.gov site says” Earnings trigger a trial work period. During a TWP, a beneficiary receiving Social Security disability benefits may test his or her ability to work and still be considered disabled. We do not consider services performed during the TWP as showing that the disability has ended until services have been performed in at least 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) in a rolling 60-month period. In 2021, any month in which earnings exceed $940 is considered a month of services for an individual's TWP.
So the thing you need to know and understand about the TWP is you are not in it if you do not make at least $940 in 2021. If you decide that you want to work 10 hours per week or 40 hours per month and you get paid $10/hour, you will only make $400 for the month and you are well below the TWP trigger so for this month you will still be considered disabled. If you decide you want to work 10 hours per week or 40 hours per month and you get paid $25.00/hour you will make $1,000 for the month and that month will be considered a month in the TWP. Remember, ‘Earnings is the trigger.
Now you have only 9 months to decide if you would like to go back to work if your earnings put you into the TWP. It is cumulative within a 60 months period. There are no do-overs. During the Trial Work Period, you can make as much as you can and still collect all of your SSDI benefits. If you use up your 9 months and you continue to work, you will lose at least part of your benefits. (I will talk about that in a later blog).
Of course, if you work full time and making more than $940/month in 2021 and you do so for 9 consecutive months, you will then not be considered disabled and you will lose your SSA benefits. If you still have a disabling condition, you can keep your Medicare for up to 8.5 years after returning to work.
Now that I have discussed all that, I want to state again that prior to doing any of this, you need to contact SSA. In my opinion, it is better to contact your local Social Security office as you will be assigned to an SSA worker there.
SSA will send you Forms to fill out to see where you are at. I highly suggest that you fill them in and get them back to them on time. Make sure you make copies of these forms and keep them in your records. Going back to work is a process after being on SSDI and you need to keep track of it all.
Let’s talk about reporting. I cannot stress to you enough how important it is to send copies of your paystubs on a monthly basis to the person assigned to you. Every month! When you do, make sure that you keep copies for yourself. My suggestion is to create a folder for yourself and for every piece of communication you send to SSA you keep a copy for yourself. You may say why? That is a lot of work. Trust me, there may come a day when you need that information. Also and this is very important in my opinion, anything you send to the SSA you either bring it personally to the local office and get a receipt from them that you gave it to them or if you mail your pay stubs, mail them registered return receipt mail. Keep any receipt your receive from SSA or the receipt from the Post Office that someone at SSA signed for your pay stubs that month and put them in that folder in case you need it for future correspondence.
The reporting is the law. You need to do it. Why is it important to keep copies of everything and get receipts for anything you send to SSA? The reason being is that SSA is a huge bureaucracy. They make mistakes. You do all this so you can present them with every document you sent to them, when you sent it, and who signed for it. It has happened more than once that SSA says they never received a document from you. If you do not have a copy of it and a receipt of them signing for it, you never sent it. This is important if they say you were overpaid or you didn’t do something right etc. Keeping everything is to your benefit.
The beauty of the TWP is that if during the 9 months period you decide you cannot work your disability is simply too much, no harm, no foul. You simply tell SSA that you are stopping.
Now let us talk about the person who wants to try to go back to work full time. I think most would agree that the person who wants to do that may need some help. Enter the Ticket to Work Program (TTWP). This program is a free and voluntary program available to people ages 18 through 64 who receive SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
According to the SSA.gov site, the goals of the TTWP are to offer beneficiaries expanded choices when seeking services and support to enter, re-enter, and or maintain employment. Increase the financial independence of self-sufficiency of the beneficiaries with disabilities and reduce and possibly eliminate reliance on the SSA disability benefits.
To participate, you need to sign up with an approved Employment Network (EN) or a State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency. Either of these, if they accept the Ticket assignment will help you. The services they provide may be training, career counseling, job placement, rehabilitation, and ongoing support.
Within this program, you can safely explore work options without putting your benefits at risk and hopefully find the right job. A plus to this program is that you can use a combination of SSA’s work incentives such as the TWP to maximize your income until you begin to learn enough and earn enough to support yourselves. The big take away with the Ticket to Work Program is that you can:
1) Go to work without automatically losing your disability benefits
2) Return to your benefits if cannot continue to work and need to stop
3) Continue to receive your healthcare benefits
4) Be protected from receiving a medical continuing disability review while using in the Program and making the expected progress.
There are two terms here that you may have never heard of before. The first is Employment Networks (EN). This is a private or public entity (including State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies) that entered into an agreement with the Social Security Administration to provide the above services to you. You and the EN must agree to work together and develop a plan for your employment goals and outline their services to you.
You have a right to shop around for an EN that fits your needs and wants. There are a lot of them out there. Do not settle until and unless you have exhausted your options. Note that some ENs do their own specific thing while others do everything. Some ENs may be only educational and offer you courses, some vocational and offer specific training while others may only offer job placement. You can check out https://www.ssa.gov/work/home.html for EN help. ENs as a private entity gets paid from Social Security after you have a positive result of returning to and sustaining work.
State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies can be a tremendous help to you. They can help retrain you, educate you and find you sustainable employment. The National Association of the Deaf has a directory of State Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation, here is the link: https://www.nad.org/resources/directories/statewide-vocational-rehabilitation-services/
So what are the takeaways for using the TTWP? You don’t automatically lose your benefits, there is an easier path back to your benefits if you cannot continue to work, you will continue to receive your healthcare benefits for a while and the SSA cannot do a medical continuing disability review when you are in the program. I hope this has given you some insight into the TTWP?
The decisions have been made. You are going back to work. You will be making greater than $940 in 2021. What happens next? The Social Security Administration (SSA) will send you a form to determine what you can do. On this form, my advice is to be as detailed as possible. Do Not Lie on this form. Also, make sure that you get it back to the SSA by the date requested.
Please pay attention to what I am about to write? Any correspondence you have with the SSA regarding your return to work, you must do one of these two things. 1) Bring the document to your local SSA office and get a receipt or 2) Mail the document to SSA registered return receipt. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT simply drop it in the mail.
Create a folder for yourself and label it SSDI Return to Work. Any document that you send to SSA I urge you will make a copy of and place the copy into this folder. I cannot stress to you how important this is. The SSA is a massive organization. Assume that everything you send to them will get lost or misplaced. If that happens and it does often, it is on you that you sent SSA the appropriate information at the appropriate time. That is why record keeping is so important. If you take the document to the local SSA again make sure you get a receipt. Take that receipt and staple it to the copy of the document you made and put that document with the receipt into the folder. If you mail the document to them, take the receipt from the post office and staple that to the copy at home and place it in your folder. When you receive the green signature card back from the postal service, staple that green card to the copy and the receipt. Please say you understand?
When working either through the Trial Work Period or the Ticket to Work Program, you must send your monthly pay stubs to the SSA. That is right! Every month you need to send your pay stubs. This is important because it lets the SSA know when your benefits will stop. Your pay stub is a document and you need to make copies and follow the procedure I outlined above. IMPORTANT!
I know at this point you must be thinking to yourself that I’m going overboard. The answer to that is yes, even for those whose transition back to work and off of SSDI goes well there are glitches.
Why do you have to send in all of this information, because it is the law? SSA uses this information to determine when your benefits will stop. The SSA does not want to overpay you. The converse is also true. You do not want to be overpaid with disability benefits. Why, because if you are overpaid disability benefits you will need to repay the SSA.
It is not uncommon for the SSA like I stated above to make mistakes. As a matter of fact, it happened to someone close to me. This person did what I outlined above. The SSA stated they were missing documents. This person factually told the SSA that all the required documents and pay stubs were submitted to them at the appropriate time. They spoke factually because they had copies of every document and pay stub they sent to the SSA and they had receipts of when they sent them and signatures of the people who signed for them. Replacing for the SSA the documents they said they never received weren’t enough. The SSA informed this person that they were overpaid and needed to return near $2000 to the SSA for disability benefit overpayment. To correct the issue and convince the SSA that there was no overpayment, all of the documents were sent along with a timeline highlighting dates sent, receipts, and signatures. Only then did the SSA agree that there was no overpayment of disability benefits.
I hope this blog helps you?