Working While Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits

Share on Pinterest
Social Security Building
Share on Pinterest

Working While Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits


Perhaps you were the victim of a workplace accident, and your ability to work has been limited. Perhaps you have undergone a bitter divorce or other serious life event that has left you unable to work to your full potential due to your need for psychological care. Perhaps you were born with a disability that limits how much and to what extent you can find work. Perhaps you have a child that suffers from a serious disability that limits how much you can work. In any of the above scenarios, are you out of luck?

The Social Security Administration, or SSA, oversees the Social Security Disability Insurance program, or SSDI, that provides funds to those who, due to certain circumstances, have limited or no working ability. To qualify, however, there are a number of rules and regulations.

Among the rules and regulations of SSDI eligibility is that you, the applicant, are not engaged in substantial gainful activity, or SGA, which is defined under Section 520 of the Social Security Act of 1972. That is to say; you can be eligible for SSDI benefits even while you are working; however, such work cannot constitute SGA. This article will discuss the parameters of SGA as part of the SSDI benefit scheme.


Substantial Gainful Activity Defined

In its basic form, SGA is performing significant mental or physical work activity, or in the words of the IRS: “the performance of significant duties over a reasonable period of time while working for pay or profit, or in work generally done for pay or profit.” On a granular level, “substantial” is significant mental or physical work, and “gainful” is work for which you would be paid. Providing houses with habitat for humanity as a construction worker is, on its face, not gainful, though there may be issues with this.

In the words of the SSA: “We evaluate the work activity of persons claiming or receiving disability benefits under SSDI…we use earnings guidelines to evaluate your work activity to decide whether the work activity is substantial gainful activity and whether we may consider you disabled under the law. While this is only one of the tests used to decide if you are disabled, it is a critical threshold in disability evaluation.”



The SSA uses a number of factors to determine whether a person qualifies as disabled under its guidelines. One qualification is income. While you may work while receiving SSDI benefits, such work cannot be SGA work.


Income level

Income level is a factor in determining SGA. The maximum earnings allowed for someone receiving SGA benefits is currently $1,170 per month and $1,950 for a blind person. If your earning top that threshold that it is considered that you can perform SGA and will not receive SSDI benefits.


Subsidized employment

While income level is generally determinative of SGA, it is not entirely determinative. If you are receiving an income that is beyond the SSA threshold and such income is “subsidized employment,” then you can still be eligible for SSDI benefits. “Subsidized employment” often occurs when the employer of the disabled person is a family friend who compensates the disabled employee higher than compensation for such work on the open market. These situations generally happen in what the SSA terms as “sheltered workshops.” In such a circumstance, the SSA will factor subsidized employment and determine if the job that you are performing has higher compensation due to the subsidy. If that is the case, you can still be eligible for SSDI benefits.


Unsuccessful Work Attempt

An unsuccessful work attempt is when you work for six months or less, and the compensation for such work is above the SSA threshold but you are compelled to leave work due to your medical condition, or because the workplace removed special accommodations. When this occurs, the SSA will consider that you are performing SGA and are eligible for SSDI benefits. Those benefits can even apply retroactively to the time that you were performing SGA.

Note that unsuccessful work attempt must occur after you were out of work for an extended period of time.


Trial Work Period

Even if you qualify for and are receiving SSDI benefits, the regulations allow for you to have a trial work period, also known as a TWP. A TWP provides you with the ability to work nine months over a five-year period where you can earn at the SGA level while still receiving SSDI benefits. The purpose of the TWP is to provide an incentive for those receiving benefits that they can try to rejoin the work at an SGA level without fear of losing benefits.



As mentioned, gainful work is work performed for compensation. Volunteer work, such as working at a soup kitchen that feeds the homeless, would not factor into SGA. Nonetheless, certain unpaid work may provide evidence that you can perform SGA and should no longer be eligible for benefits. In the Habitat for Humanity example mentioned above, if you volunteered by performing light construction work the SSA may determine that you have the ability to work an SGA job.



Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Injury Attorney Today

If you have been injured and are unable to work, then you are entitled to SSDI benefits. However, obtaining those benefits is complicated. There are various rules and regulations for qualifications. To obtain benefits, you need an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who knows how to navigate the SSDI qualifications process. Contact the Philadelphia law firm of Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo at 800-952-9640 to learn more about Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and how it can help you.

Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo
Krasno, Krasno & OnwudinjoAbout the author

Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo have been serving injured Pennsylvania workers since 1936. If you have been injured on the job or are seeking Social Security benefits, call us today for a FREE no obligation consultation.