Skip to main content

Work Incentives: SSDI Only

SSDI provides benefits to disabled or blind persons who are "insured" by workers' contributions to the Social Security trust fund. This article describes the SSDI return-to-work employment provisions.

SSDI Work Incentive: Trial Work Period

Since SSDI is an insurance program, returning to work is handled differently for SSDI beneficiaries than it is for recipients of SSI, which is needs-based.

The Trial Work Period (TWP) allows beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least 9 months, without affecting benefits. During the TWP, beneficiaries receive full benefits, regardless of how high their earnings are.

  • SSA currently allows nine months of trial work.
  • The months do not have to be consecutive and are counted within a rolling 60 consecutive month period.
  • Beneficiaries continue to receive their full benefit check during the TWP.
  • A month of work does not count toward the TWP unless the individual’s gross earnings meet the TWP earnings threshold of $970/month (2022).
  • For self-employed beneficiaries, a TWP service month is completed if work exceeds 80 hours per month.
  • Example: If an individual goes to work and earns $500 a month, they will not trigger the TWP and will continue to receive their full benefits.
  • Example: If an individual goes back to work and earns $1,200 a month, they are over the trial work threshold and those months will count toward their TWP.

Once they have worked at or above the threshold for nine total months, SSA will assess the person’s earnings during the TWP and calculate whether the person worked at substantial gainful activity (SGA) which is $1,350/month (2022)

  • Two work incentive provisions, the Subsidy and Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) can effectively reduce a person’s countable income below SGA.
  • If the person was earning SGA during the trial work period, SSDI benefits will stop after a three-month grace period
  • If the person was not earning SGA or if countable income was reduced below SGA with the Subsidy or IRWEs, benefits continue as usual; (that is, they can continue working and receive benefits)

SOAR Tool

Utilize the SSDI Trial Work Tracking Worksheet to help track TWP months.

Extended Period of Eligibility

Once beneficiaries have completed the TWP, they enter the extended period of eligibility (EPE), and SSA will make work activity determinations using the substantial gainful activity (SGA) rules.

  • The first 36 months of the EPE are the re-entitlement period during which SSA pays benefits for months that earnings are below SGA, and suspend benefits for months that earnings are over SGA
  • Benefits are terminated when SGA is performed after this 36-month period
  • This program can help reduce fears about not being able to maintain jobs for the long term or concerns about a decline in health

Subsidy

SSA offers the Subsidy provision to SSDI beneficiaries only. Subsidies are supports received on the job that result in receiving more pay than the actual value of the services performed.

  • That support can come in the form of extra hours of supervision, time spent with a job coach or mentor, or a reduced workload
  • A worker who is subsidized is paid the same amount as other workers who are in the same job function
  • A subsidy is not an amount of money given to the person from SSA, but rather is a value placed on the support provided

Subsidy can be very useful at the end of the TWP when SSA calculates whether the person’s benefit should continue; if earnings can be reduced below SGA with the application of a Subsidy, their benefit payments would continue

SSDI Subsidy Example

Jane receives SSDI and is working at a grocery store alongside her coworker John who does not have a disability. Jane and John are paid the same hourly rate, but Jane is only expected to unpack 8 boxes, while John is expected to unpack 10. Jane is doing 80% of what John is doing. However, she receives the same wage as John. Her employer is subsidizing 20% of her employment by allowing her to have a reduced workload but paying her the same wage as a full workload. If Jane were paid $1,000 that month, because of her Subsidy, SSA would count her earnings at only $800.

Extended Medicare

If a beneficiary's benefits are terminated because of work, Medicare coverage will continue for at least 93 months after the end of the trial work period (TWP) (at least 8 1/2 years from first return to work).

Expedited Reinstatement (EXR)

SSA may be able to start benefits again without a new application if a person stops working within 5 years of the termination date.

  • They must request EXR within 5 years from the month of the terminated benefits
  • They must not be working at SGA and must have a medical impairment that is the same as or related to the original disabling impairment.