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Work programs and disability


To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, a person must suffer from a disabling condition that prevents gainful employment. Many people in Tennessee may think SSD beneficiaries cannot engage in any kind of work. However, as most Tennessee disability lawyers could explain, the Social Security Administration permits limited work and also encourages beneficiaries to resume work through special work programs.

Employment and benefit eligibility

The SSA does not award benefits to people who are engaging in "substantial gainful activity." In 2015, this is work generating income over $1,090 per month for everyone but blind individuals, who can earn up to $1,820. People engaging in work that is not SGA can collect or apply for disability benefits. Furthermore, people with earnings above the SGA level may be able to deduct work-related expenses associated with the disability and still qualify for benefits.

Some people worry engaging in any work can undermine a disability claim. Tennessee disability lawyers can confirm that employment is a factor the SSA can consider during claim evaluation and subsequent continuing disability reviews. However, current SSD beneficiaries can work without being penalized by entering a trial work period or participating in the Ticket to Work program.

Special programs and incentives

During a trial work period, an SSD beneficiary can attempt working for nine months during a five-year period without risking immediate benefit loss. Any month in which earnings exceed a certain threshold qualifies as part of the trial work period. In 2015, this threshold is set at $780.

Once a beneficiary has worked nine qualifying months, the SSA calculates the average income for each month. If this average exceeds the SGA threshold, the SSA halts disability benefits. However, the SSA makes a few special provisions:

  • For the 36 months after the trial work period ends, the SSA disburses benefits during any month in which the worker's income falls below the SGA level. The worker does not need to complete a new disability application or take other special steps to receive these benefits.
  • Workers who lose the ability to work during the five years after the trial work period ends may ask the SSA to reinstate benefits. The SSA expedites this process, and workers don't have to file new applications or wait for medical disability reviews.
  • For 93 months after the trial work period, the SSA continues providing Medicaid Part A coverage without charge.

The SSA also actively helps beneficiaries resume work through the Ticket to Work program. This program provides job rehabilitation, training and referrals. Beneficiaries who make timely progress within the program are exempt from continuing disability reviews. As Tennessee disability lawyers know, this means benefit loss cannot occur while a beneficiary is enrolled in the program.

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