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Can I Work While Waiting for a Decision on SSDI Benefits? Look at Your SGA


If you are like many people seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), you may be facing a common dilemma: You are hurting and unable to work, but your normal bills and household expenses do not simply go away because of your condition. Plus, it is likely that you are incurring additional medical costs for treating your illness or injury. When you are confronted with these financial difficulties, the logical assumption is to go back to work to make money any way you can.

What you may not know is that doing so can have an impact on your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, including a situation where you already applied but have not been approved. It is critical to discuss your circumstances with an experienced disability attorney who can tell you more about the extremely complicated laws governing a claim.

Working Before a Decision on Disability Benefits 

Generally, it is necessary that you be unable to work when you apply for SSDI and while waiting for a decision. The SSA presumes that you are not disabled if you are able to work, even if you work through the pain. However, the analysis of whether you qualify for disability benefits goes even deeper into SSA regulations, specifically those on your capacity to work and whether you have succeeded when attempting to return to your job.

Your Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Level 

To qualify for SSDI, your medical condition must be such that you cannot substantially work for at least 12 months. The SSA uses the term “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) as the benchmark: In 2018, the SGA level is $1,180 monthly; if you make more than that amount per month, you are not eligible for benefits.

However, there is more to your SGA when looking at the words that comprise the phrase:

  • Substantial means you are applying considerable effort, either physically or mentally, as part of your job activities; and,
  • Gainful activity means you are engaging in efforts for which you get paid, or for which another person in your position would be.

Unsuccessful Work Attempts 

Despite the eligibility rule that you must work under the SGA amount after applying for disability benefits, there is an exception through the unsuccessful work attempt scenario. You may still qualify for SSDI if:

  • You had stopped working due to your disability;
  • You applied for SSDI benefits;
  • You went back to work, to make ends meet while waiting for approval; but then,
  • You were forced to quit or reduce your hours because of your disability.

Under these circumstances, you are still eligible for SSDI through your unsuccessful work attempt. The rule acts as a sort of “excuse” for why you went back to your job, so the work does not prevent you from getting SSDI for the applicable months. 

Consult with an SSDI Lawyer Before Heading Back to Work 

This general overview may be helpful, but there is much more to the SGA level and unsuccessful work attempts when applied to a real-life claim. For more information, so please contact the SSDI attorneys at Steinhardt, Siskind and Lieberman, LLC. We have offices in Glen Burnie, Owings Mills, Ellicott City, or Annapolis, and we are happy to schedule a free consultation.

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