How to Work, Earn Money, and Keep Your Benefits Unchanged

Earn money and keep your benefits unchanged

Earn money and keep your benefits unchanged

If you are collecting  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or living in subsidied housing, the law allows you to work part-time, earn some money, and keep your benefits unchanged.

Your Medicare continues for three years after you go off SSDI, to make the transition to full-time employment a little smoother.  You can take a job that does not include health insurance right away.

And SSDI lets you earn $1,010 per month, and leave your benefit unchanged.  That number changes a little every year according to the cost of living.  It can be the difference between abject poverty and poverty.  “Passive” income — rent on a property you own or interest on invested funds — will keep your benefits unchanged no matter how much you earn.

Food Stamps and Section 8 housing also let you earn more than the program’s income limits, and keep your benefits unchanged, by deducting certain expenses from your total earnings to stay under the limit.  With Section 8 housing,  or some similar subsidy programs, your rent should go up for every increase in earnings, and down when you earn less.

The Trial Work Period

.When you start receiving SSDI, the government gives you a 9-month trial work period.  You can work, earn as much as you want, and keep your benefits unchanged.

The nine months do not have to be consecutive.  You can start and stop working.  But once you use them up, they’re gone forever.  Then, if you’re still unable to work full time, you go on “extended benefits.”  You can still work, but that’s when the $1,010 per month income limit kicks in.

You can earn more, and stay under the income limit, by deducting certain “Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE’s) from your total income. If your total monthly income, minus your IRWE’s, is below $1,010, you keep your benefit unchanged,

How “IRWE”s” Keep Your Benefits Unchanged

Out-of-pocket medical expenses,  or expenses needed to allow you to work, can be deducted from your total earnings to keep you under the program’s income limit.  Typical IRWE’s are  insurance deductibles for medical services, mileage to medical appointments, and equipment you need for work that you pay for out of pocket

If these expenses bring the earned income below the program’s limit, you keep your benefits  unchanged.

But check with your Social Security, housing, or Food Stamp office before you assume an expense will be accepted as an IRWE.  Make sure you know, because you can lose your benefits completely if you earn more than the income limit.  Since it usually takes several months for the program to figure out that you’ve been earning too much, you can get a letter one day telling you to pay them back thousands of dollars they paid you by mistake.

Your local Social Security office will answer those questions.  Keep a record of the name of the person you talked to and the date.

You can often deduct things like therapeutic massage and acupuncture from your income if a doctor, therapist or some other practitioner writes a letter stating that you need these things to be able to work, or for medical issues. But make sure before you assume it’s deductible.

You can deduct the same expenses for Food Stamps and some other programs.

How to Hire a Benefits Counselor

A large percentage of SSDI applications are rejected the first time, and require one or more appeals.  Social Security trains and certifies individuals to represent you in those appeals for a fee.

Make sure your counselor is certified by SSA, and that he charges no more than one-third of your retroactive benefits check payable when you receive the check and not before.  A benefits counselor who charges more than a third, or asks for any payment before you win your case and get your check, is acting unethically and maybe illegally.

SSDI, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid

SSDI and Medicare are insurance programs,  Your premiums were deducted from your paychecks when you were working.  You earned the benefits and paid for them.

SSI and Medicaid are poverty programs.  SSI is mostly for people who have never been able to hold any job, and Medicaid is a giant health care program for the very poor.

The poverty programs have different benefit levels, rules, and income limitations.  Make sure you know which programs you’re on, what the rules and limitations are, and don’t break them, or lie to the government.  The cost and likelihood of getting caught eventually are too high, even though it can take a very long time for them to catch on to you.

Would you like to work and earn money, if you can keep your benefits unchanged?

Wordworks Blog Author: Ken Braiterman

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, has been an activist, news reporter, opinion writer, and columnist since 1968. From 1997 to 2009, he was New Hampshire's leading advocate for recovery-based mental health services. He is an advanced Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator.

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