The Social Security Administration (SSA) grants disability benefits to individuals who are deemed unable to work and support themselves due to certain disabling conditions. However, what if you are able to work part-time to supplement your disability benefits? Will that put your disability benefits at risk?

The truth is that some people are able to work a certain amount while still being approved for or receiving Social Security disability benefits. However, there are limitations, and there is also the possibility that you could jeopardize your benefits if you work too much.

Engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity

The SSA believes you are earning too much when you are engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is based on an income threshold, which is the following for 2020:

  • $1,260 or more monthly if you are not blind
  • $2,110 or more monthly if you are blind

If you apply for Social Security disability benefits, and you earn more than the above threshold, the SSA will likely determine that you are able to engage in SGA and earn a competitive income to support yourself. This generally results in a denial of benefits. If you are not working enough to meet the SGA threshold, you may still be eligible for disability benefits even though you are working part-time.

What if You are Already Receiving Benefits?

If you are already receiving benefits, and you have a part-time work opportunity, the SGA threshold still applies. However, benefit recipients also have a nine-month trial work period if they want to attempt to work more without risking their benefits. You can keep receiving benefits for this nine-month period, even if you are earning enough to be engaging in substantial gainful activity.

When the nine months are over, and you are still able to exceed the SGA threshold, you will be considered able to work and will no longer be eligible for disability benefits. The nine months do not have to be consecutive, and certain months might not count, such as if you earned less than $910 gross income or worked in a self-employed capacity for fewer than 80 hours in a month. If you are not earning more than the SGA threshold at the end of your trial work period, you should remain eligible to keep receiving benefits.

Are there Exceptions to the SGA Rule?

The SGA threshold is not always absolute when it comes to being able to work part-time or not and still be granted benefits. The SSA can evaluate the nature of your work and pay, instead of simply the amount you are earning. For example:

  • If you are volunteering at a soup kitchen, and you are able to keep up with fast-paced cooking and serving, the SSA might determine that you have the ability to work in the food service business. Even though you are not earning anything for your volunteer work, you might be deemed ineligible for benefits.
  • If you are earning more than the SGA limit but only working very limited hours or tasks because your employer subsidizes your work due to your disability, the SSA might realize that your income might not reflect your work abilities. You might qualify for benefits despite still earning income because of the limitations of your work.

Many people work part-time and receive disability benefits, though it is important to discuss the matter with an experienced disability attorney first.