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Can I Work While Receiving Disability Benefits?

Posted October 8, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Federal law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), SGA is generally defined as work that generates a certain amount of income per month. In 2021, that amount is $1,310 for non-blind disabled applicants and $2,190 for blind applicants. An individual who generates more income than the SGA limits will likely be ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits. However, there are exceptions to this rule:

Trial Work Period

To be eligible for disability benefits, your injury must be expected to keep you from working for at least one year. After becoming disabled, it is often difficult to know whether you will be able to return to work. To help disability applicants determine whether they will be able to return to work, the SSA will allow disability applicants to engage in a work trial period for nine months. During this time, you can receive disability benefits in full, regardless of how much income you make.

According to 2021 standards, any month that you earn at least $940 counts as a trial month. Similarly, if you are self-employed, any month where you work more than 80 hours (or earn more than $940) is considered a trial work month. Your trial period will continue until you’ve worked nine months within a rolling 60-month timeframe. The trial months do not need to be consecutive. If you earn more than $940 for more than 9 months within a 5-year period, your disability will be deemed to have ended and your benefits will stop.

Extended Period of Eligibility

Once you have completed your trial work period, the SSA does provide resources in the event that you are still unable to consistently work. You can receive Social Security Disability benefits for any month where your earnings fall below the SGA amount, within a 36-month window following the completion of your trial period. This is referred to as an extended period of eligibility.

Expedited Reinstatement

Following your trial work period, if your Social Security Disability payments stop because your income exceeds the SGA amount, you still have a five-year period in which you can re-start your benefits without filing a new disability application. This is known as expedited reinstatement and can save you significant time should your condition worsen—or if you become re-injured—in the future.

Offset your Earnings with Expenses

If you are consistently earning more than the SGA limit, it is very possible that you are ineligible for disability benefits. However, the SSA will deduct certain disability-related expenses, potentially allowing your overall income to fall below the SGA threshold. Depending on your unique situation, certain activities or expenses could be deducted to help your income remain below the SGA threshold. 

Notably, these rules apply to persons who are disabled by impairments other than statutory blindness; special rules apply to blind beneficiaries.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

What Happens to Social Security During Government Shutdowns?

Posted October 1, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

If you watch the news or listen to the radio, you’re probably already aware of the dual financial issues currently facing the United States Congress. The federal government is fast approaching critical deadlines for approving funding for government operations, and for hitting the limit on the government’s spending ability (the “debt ceiling”). Earlier this week, Congress passed a bill that would extend their deadline for approving funding for government operations; however, such measure only postpones that conflict to December 3 of this year, and the problem of the debt ceiling has yet to be resolved. 

Fortunately, the effects on the Social Security Administration during a government shutdown, and even of the debt ceiling crisis, are not expected to be severe for beneficiaries or applicants.

Government Shutdowns

The federal government’s fiscal calendar runs from October 1 to September 30 of every year. For the government to continue to operate past September 30 each year, appropriations (spending) bills must be passed by the Congress. The appropriations bills provide funding to each government department to pay their employees and for the services they provide. It’s not uncommon for Congress to fail to pass its annual appropriations bills on time to provide funding for the next year. When that happens, Congress will generally pass what is called a “continuing resolution,” which allows the government to continue to spend at the same level as the previous year – for either a few weeks or a few months, while Congress continues to work on the new appropriations. This is exactly what happened on Thursday, when Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the government running until December 3.

But what happens after December 3 if still no appropriations bill is passed? Without an appropriations bill or a new continuing resolution, the government would shut down, leading to federal employee furloughs and a pause in many government services. The longest government shutdown in history occurred under the Trump Administration, when the federal government was shut down for 35 days.

Luckily, the Social Security Administration is in a different position than other parts of the federal government, because Social Security spending is considered “mandatory,” and therefore Social Security doesn’t rely on an annual appropriations bill for its funding. What this means is that Social Security benefits, and the processing of applications for Social Security benefits, will continue even in the event of a government shutdown. 

Debt Ceiling Crisis

The looming threat involving the federal government’s debt ceiling is related, but wholly separate, from the yearly appropriations struggle that can lead to government shutdowns. The federal debt, currently reported to be at about $28.4 trillion, is the amount of money that the government owes for spending on payments such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, military salaries, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits. The “debt ceiling,” or debt limit, is what allows the government to borrow money to finance those spending obligations. The debt ceiling has been changed almost 100 times since the end of World War II, most recently in 2019 when the limit was suspended until August 1, 2021. Since then, the government has been funding itself by taking emergency cash saving steps.

If the government is unable to borrow any more money, it could default on its debt payments and might not be able to pay its employees, including members of the military, or pay out benefits such as SNAP (food stamps) or the Child Tax Credit payments. A government default could also have a profound effect on the stock market and on private lending.

The good news for Social Security beneficiaries is that the government can pay benefits out of the Social Security Trust Fund, which is completely separate from the government’s general operating fund. Even if the debt ceiling is not raised, funds from individuals’ payroll taxes will continue to go in to the Trust Fund and can be used to pay out benefits. Social Security is expected to be able to continue paying out benefits with the help of the Trust Fund through at least 2034.

The Social Security Administration has released a plan to temporarily stop certain services during a pause in funding, including many services having to do with customer service functions. All other mission-critical work, such as processing applications for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, handling disability appeals, conducting ALJ hearings, deciding cases, and issuing new and replacement Social Security cards will continue.

What About SSI?

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is safety-net program that helps people who are disabled and meet strict income and resource requirements. Families with a disabled child may also be able to collect SSI benefits to help with the care of that child. The SSI program pays a maximum benefit of $794 for an eligible individual, or $1,191 for an eligible couple, in 2021.

Unlike other Social Security benefits, which are funded by dedicated payroll taxes, SSI is financed by general funds of the U.S. Treasury. Though funded differently, SSI benefits are still considered mandatory spending, and would not be affected if Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill. 

However, not everyone agrees on what the consequences for SSI would be if the government fails to increase the debt ceiling. Some members of Congress have called for prioritizing certain types of payments, starting with principal and interest on debt owed to the public, then Social Security payments, military pay and veterans’ benefits. But the feasibility of carrying out such a plan remains in question and there is always the potential for legal challenges. 

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Tom Klint of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Social Security Disability for Brain Injuries

Posted September 24, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are becoming a more common diagnosis for claimants needing Social Security disability benefits, with advances in testing and imaging as well as more publicity from injured veterans and athletes. These disabilities are not always easy to prove.

Many of the symptoms of TBI are subtle. Also, because most of the patients are not good historians due to their brain injuries and often lack self-insight, proof of total disability is challenging. The involvement of family members and friends is helpful for reporting symptoms to the treating physicians.

It is not uncommon for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury to experience physical difficulties as well as a change in cognitive abilities, the ability to concentrate, personality, mood changes, or social functioning. Others also have trouble with language, which can result in ineffective speech or communication. Some impairments may heal over time, and some functions may be regained some through therapy, while other impairments will not improve—or they may actually get worse over time.

Until October 2016, the Social Security Administration evaluated traumatic brain injuries under disability listings for other types of medical conditions. Now, the regulations cover brain damage caused by skull fracture, a closed head injury, or penetration by an object into the brain tissue.

If Social Security does not find that your limitations are so severe that you are disabled under the listing (see below), it then must evaluate whether your limitations are legitimately keeping you from working. Social Security will assess your physical and mental limitations using a physical residual functional capacity (RFC) form and a mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) form. These forms note a wide variety of limitations that can affect your ability to work, such as problems concentrating, standing, walking, and so on.

Multiple moderate limitations across several areas may make you unable to work, even though you don’t have marked or extreme limitations in any one area. An inability to return to your previous job, however, is not necessarily enough to get you approved for Social Security disability benefits. You must not be able to work any job, even one like a “surveillance system monitor,” which requires few skills and limited physical activity. Social Security will consider your age, education, and work experience when assessing your ability to do any work. Social Security recognizes that the older one is, the harder it is to learn a new job, particularly if an applicant has cognitive difficulties.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

See Adult Listing 11.18 (Traumatic Brain Injury): https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/11.00-Neurological-Adult.htm#11_18

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®