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Trial Return to Work Period

Social Security Attorney Dedicated to Guiding Applicants for Benefits

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program provides benefits to qualifying individuals who are unable to work due to an illness, injury, or other disability. In order to establish eligibility for SSDI benefits, a claimant does not have to show that he or she is unable to perform any work at all, but rather that he or she cannot work at a level considered “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). Experienced Social Security lawyer Russell Goldsmith has helped claimants present their cases for benefits for over 34 years and can help evaluate whether your limited work circumstances may qualify you for Social Security disability benefits..

Once the Social Security Administration (SSA) approves a claimant’s SSDI application (and thus finds a claimant meets a period of disability under their rules), and the claimant becomes a beneficiary, he or she is in fact encouraged to attempt a return to work under Social Security’s rules. A number of incentives exist under the rules to allow an individual to get their foot back in the work do. If in fact an individual is not undertaking SGA level work (here defined year by year by the Social Security regulations: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/sga.html), the Social Security rules provide for continuing benefits. The Social Security regulations likewise provide incentives for a return to work beyond gainful levels, such that an individual can try and return to work making wages beyond that of gainful levels and can still feel secure that for a period of time their benefit check will not be reduced. The Social Security regulations allow for what is called a “trial work period” (TWP), during which period a beneficiary may see whether a return to work is possible, for a limited period of time, and with no upper limit on earnings.

SSDI Work Requirements

In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, a claimant must demonstrate initially that he or she remains unable to work at a level considered to be SGA for a year or longer period of time. This determination requires the Social Security Administration take a look at the types of work the claimant has performed in the past and the type of work, if any, that he or she is performing at the time of applying for benefits. The SSA generally considers work that brings earned income of at least $1,090 per month, as of the beginning of 2015, to be SGA.

The Trial Work Period

In order to quality for the trial work period provisions, one must first be found disabled and entitled to benefits under Social Security’s rules. Once found entitled to disability benefits, an SSDI beneficiary (may find his or her benefit payments reduced or terminated should they return to work and show an ability to earn SGA level earnings. It is not necessarily whether one is actually earning gainful wages that is important, but rather whether one remains capable of doing so. Thus, working at a level below what is considered SGA level may still result in one’s disability benefits being ceased if the Social Security Administration determines they are capable of additional earnings that would add up SGA level earnings. It is important to note that the Social Security rules are looking to determine whether one is capable of performing such work on an ongoing and continuing basis: not whether they are capable of performing some work that passes the $1,090 threshold for one or two months. In recognition of the fact that SSA is looking to see if one remains capable of working on a “regular and continuing basis,” the Social Security rules allow beneficiaries a period of time, the trial work period (TWP), during which they can work without risking their SSDI benefits.

A TWP typically begins when a beneficiary’s income passes a certain benchmark. The earliest a TWP can begin is the date the beneficiary becomes entitled to receive benefits, which is at least five months after the date that she or she became disabled (and cannot precede one’s initial filing date).

The amount of income required to trigger the beginning of a TWP is subject to annual adjustments by the SSA. In 2015, this threshold amount is $780 per month. If a beneficiary earns this amount or more in a given month, the SSA will consider that to be the first month of the beneficiary’s TWP. Each year, just as the case with SGA level earnings, the SSA adjusts what constitutes a TWP.

A TWP consists of nine months, which do not need to be consecutive, within a rolling five-year period. The SSA does not count months of work that occurred more than five years ago.

If a beneficiary earns enough to begin a TWP in January 2015, the SSA will count any month in which the beneficiary’s income exceeds the threshold amount until the end of December 2019. If the total number of months that exceed the threshold amount is less than nine in January 2020, the month of January 2015 will no longer count. It may therefore be possible for a beneficiary to get more than nine total months of TWP, provided they do not all occur within a single five-year period.

The SSA will consider a beneficiary to have completed a TWP if it counts nine months of qualifying work in the preceding 60-month period. During the trial work period, SSA may determine that one’s disabled from gainful employment status has ceased if the medical evidence or other evidence (other than the earnings itself) shows that you no longer remain disabled. Likewise, at the end of the trial work period, SSA will look to see whether the work you undertook during the trial work period suggests that one has remained disabled from earning gainful wages (and, thus, whether their disability has ceased at any point after the trial work period ended).

At the end of the TWP, the SSA does not cut beneficiaries off their benefits right away. Instead, the beneficiary enters an “extended period of eligibility” (EPE) after the TWP.

Extended Period of Eligibility

During this 36-month period of time, if the individual is earning what is considered to be SGA level earnings (which is $1090 per month in 2015), then benefits will be ceased. However, even if one’s SSDI benefits cease after the successful completion of a TWP, benefits can be automatically reinstated without the need for a new application for any months where income falls below SGA levels. In order to quality for reinstatement of benefits, one still must show that they continued to have a disabling impairment. This reinstatement period continues for a period of 36 consecutive months following the end of the trial work period.

When the EPE ends, the beneficiary’s eligibility for benefits ends after the first month in which his or her income is greater than the SGA amount. After this occurs, the beneficiary is no longer a “beneficiary” and must file a new application to start receiving benefits again. However, the SSA does allow an expedited procedure for certain past beneficiaries.

Expedited Reinstatement

If a person’s SSDI benefits terminate because of work, typically after the completion of a TWP and EPE, he or she can request “expedited reinstatement” of benefits if certain criteria are met. The individual must be unable to perform SGA due to the same impairment that entitled him or her to earlier benefits, or a closely related impairment. He or she must also request expedited reinstatement within five years of the month that the prior benefits terminated.

Seek Knowledgeable Legal Guidance for Your SSDI Claim

Your claim requires careful planning and preparation, and a knowledgeable SSDI attorney may be vital in guiding you through the process. Russell J. Goldsmith can give you an honest and detailed assessment of your case, as well as aggressive advocacy before the SSA. Contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at (800) 773-8622 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.