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The short answer is yes, once you are approved for disability and receiving social security disability insurance benefits, which is not SSI. SSI is a separate program and the work incentives are completely different. Trial Work Period only applies to people who have been approved based on their work history and FICA credits. These eligible individuals are currently receiving benefits on a monthly basis from the social security administration. If your health improves and you feel that you would like to test your ability to go back to work, there is a great opportunity to do so under the social security regulations. That opportunity is called a Trial Work Period (TWP). It gives you an opportunity to find out whether or not you can sustain work activity day after day, week after week, month after month.
The trial work period can last up to nine months and during those nine months, you can earn as much money as you possibly can, without it affecting your monthly benefits. There is no reduction in your SSA benefit during the full nine months. At the end of those nine months, social security will take a look at how well you have done. They will average your monthly income and determine at that time if it looks like your health has improved and it appears you are able to return to work on a full time regular basis. If that is the case, your 9 month TWP will come to an end. However, SSA will pay three additional months, the month your disability ends (usually the 9th month), and 2 additional months so that you end up receiving a full year of benefits unaffected by how much you worked and unaffected by how much you made.
Written notice is given advising when your benefits will stop. However, if you again become disabled after returning to work within five years after the end of your TWP, from the same disease or condition for which you were originally allowed, your benefits can be reinstated by simply reporting to SSA you are no longer working because of your health. Let them know you are injured again from the same disease or condition, and your benefits should automatically begin with the month you stop working. It really is a wonderful program and it is a shame that very few people take advantage of it or even know about it. In fact, even some attorneys do not exactly understand how this program works. Often times, it is mistakenly confused with the work incentive program for the SSI folks, which is a whole separate issue and completely different than what is available for someone receiving social security disability (SSDIB).
Why Is It Important To Retain An Experienced Social Security Attorney For A Case Like This?
There are a number of rules that apply to a trial work period. First of all, any month in which you make at least $810 before taxes (that is, $810 in any thirty day, one-month period), counts as one of the months of the trial work period. So whether you make $2,000 for the month or $811 a month, it still counts as only one month of the TWP. Also it should be noted the nine months do not have to run consecutively; you can try it for a month, and see how you do. Then wait a month or two and maybe work for 3 months and test again your ability to sustain work activity. Social Security will keep track by virtue of the FICA credits that shows up on your earnings record. That is to say, they will be informed about what is happening with your work record. However, you are obligated to let Social Security know about each time you attempt to go back to work.
Generally, I recommend that folks contact the social security office directly. It would be wise to have the guidance of an attorney who knows the trial work period program and knows how to properly adhere to all of the rules and guidelines. You want to be specific and accurate, and you do not want to end up making mistakes that could result in a substantial overpayment that would have to be paid back. It is wise to receive guidance and advocacy from an experienced attorney from the very beginning, and continue to work under that guidance through the entire trial work period.
What Is A CDR?
A CDR, Continuing Disability Review, is something that is often triggered by a trial work period, but not necessarily. For example, every claim gets a diary date once the individual is awarded benefits. Most of diary dates are three years, which means Social Security is going to take a hard look at the claim at the three-year anniversary mark. However, it does not always happen at the three-year mark. It depends on funding from Congress and whether they have appropriated the monies to carry out CDRs. Basically, the CDR is an investigation to see if you are still disabled under the rules of the Social Security Act. Have you have improved to the point where you can return to regular sustained work?
There is a whole process that social security will follow to see if perhaps you are well enough to go back to work. During this time, your benefits will continue while undergoing a CDR. Folks who do not try to go back to work, and who are not working, can receive a notice that they are being reviewed. Understand that a CDR is not dependent on your attempt to return to work or if you take advantage of a TWP. The CDR is a continuing disability review process that can be triggered at any time and for any reason SSA deems appropriate. However, a TWP can often trigger a CDR.
You will receive a notification in the mail letting you know that if your benefits are going to stop after the completion of the CDR process. If you are going to appeal this cut-off, there is a very specific and time sensitive appeal process you must follow in order to keep your benefits coming while you appeal. It is critical that when you get that very first letter notifying you your benefits are ending, you contact your attorney immediately. There are a number of things that you should do to protect yourself and your family going forward, and it is best to do so under the guidance of an attorney. Again, obtaining counsel once you receive that first letter is absolutely critical in maximizing chances for a favorable outcome.