Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?

The Social Security Disability application and review processes usually take several months, and sometimes years, to complete. It is not uncommon for applicants to wonder if they should try to work during this time, or if working will harm their eligibility for benefits.

The quick answer to this question is that, if you can work, you should. Social Security Disability benefits are for people who cannot work due to an impairment, so if you can work, this program may not be for you.

Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?

That said, it is entirely possible that you may be able to work – and still be disabled. The key is how many hours you can sustain work, and how much you are paid. SSA considers “work” (technically Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA) to be an activity that generates $1130 per month or more.  In 2017, SGA levels will be $1170 per month. So, if you can work while you are waiting for social security disability benefits approval, but that work does not generate SGA level earnings because of your impairments, you may still be found disabled.  Do not play games with this. If SSA determines that your earnings were self-limited, and not actually restricted by your impairments, your benefits will not be approved and you may be investigated for fraud.

If your claim is for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), rather than Social Security Disability, income from work will have an additional effect on your benefits. SSI is a needs-based program, so the benefit amount will be reduced if you have other income in the household. If the income is unearned, this reduction is dollar for dollar. If the income is earned, however, your SSI benefit would be reduced only $1 for every $2 earned, after an $80 set-aside.

If you have to proceed to the hearing level of appeal, working while waiting for your disability claim to wend through the process can have an effect on whether the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) believes you. Paradoxically, this could be different depending upon which ALJ hears your case. Some ALJs applaud efforts to work despite your impairments. Others will use that as proof that you really can work and are therefore not disabled. It is helpful to hire a local social security attorney, who is familiar with the ALJs in your local office, so you will know whether your particular ALJ will applaud or punish your attempts to work.

If you do try to work, it is extremely important that you keep track of your time and earnings, and honestly report this to SSA.

A social security disability attorney will be able to help you understand if working while awaiting benefits is the best thing for your situation.

Other Types of Monetary Support While Waiting for Disability Benefits

There are other programs available on a local, state and federal level that you may be able to seek assistance from while waiting for disability approval:

  • Assistance for the Blind and Disabled (ABD)
  • Rent assistance through HEN
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Food Stamps
  • Energy assistance (LEAP)

An invaluable place to find out what is available to you is the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).  A social worker will help you to discover what is available to you where you live and assist with filling out applications.

Non- Government Assistance

There are also a number of things you can do outside of government programs to help you cut back on budget costs and help make ends meet. Some of these may include:

  • If you own a home you may be able to refinance or take out a home equity loan
  • Let friends or family help, they love you and many times are willing to do what they can to help out
  • Seek out local assistance programs in your community such as food banks, churches, and non-profit organizations that reach out to help people in need in the community

Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?

BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Unemployment benefits are meant as a way to help those in the workforce that are out of work through no fault of their own. Generally, you are not eligible for Unemployment benefits unless you are able to work and are activity seeking work. Many ALJs see this as inconsistent with a disability, which by definition is an inability to work. There are some exceptions, such as if you are limited to part-time work, or if you are 50 years old or older and cannot perform your past relevant work. If you truly believe that you cannot work, however, you should not be certifying that you can in order to collect Unemployment benefits.

While there is no current legal bar to collecting both Unemployment benefits and Social Security Disability for the same period of time, this may change soon.

No one can control how long the Social Security Administration will take to review and approve an applicant for social security disability benefits. Hiring a social security disability lawyer can help you understand the process and ensure that your appeals are timely filed so your case does not get stuck. If you are able to work while you are waiting, make sure you let your attorney know, so he or she can assess the effect of that work on your claim.

The team at Maddox and Laffoon are here to help with any needs you have during the Social Security Disability application process. Contact us anytime, we would enjoy helping you.

 

Does My Age Affect My Social Security Disability Benefits Eligibility

Does my AGE affect my eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits?Does My Age Affect My Social Security Disability Benefits Eligibility

If you are 50 years or older, your age certainly can affect whether or not you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. This is because there is a special regulation embedded in the Code of Federal Regulations that we call the “GRID.” Its official title is the “Medical Vocational Guidelines,” but even some of the Administrative Law Judges call it the GRID. It is laid out in the form of 3 charts, and looks like, well, a grid.

For the GRID to apply, you must have an impairment that prevents you from doing your past relevant work (PRW). PRW is a term of art that means jobs that you have performed sometime in the past 15 years, for pay or profit, long enough to have learned how to do them.

You can be awarded disability benefits under the GRID if you are 50 or older, are limited to Sedentary level work by your impairment, and have no:

  • Sedentary PRW;
  • Acquired skills transferable to Sedentary level work; or
  • Special training that would provide for direct entry into skilled work

“Sedentary” is another term of art, and means work that does not require you to be on your feet for more than 2 hours out of an 8-hour day or lift and carry more than 10 pounds.  If your impairment limits you, but you can do more than Sedentary work activity, you may still be found disabled under the GRID if you have attained the age of 55, and are limited to “Light” level work. Light level work is usually done on your feet, but requires lifting and carrying no more than 20 pounds occasionally (up to 1/3 of the workday) or 10 pounds frequently (1/3-2/3 of the workday).

Here is an example:

Mary worked as a Back-Hoe Operator for 15 years, until she injured her back and knees and could no longer handle the vibration or jumping on and off the equipment. Her employer put her in the back office to work as a bookkeeper, but within a couple of months checks were bouncing and it became clear that she would need some special training that the employer did not want to pay for. Instead, Mary was laid off two months before her 50th birthday. She had back and knee surgery, but it did not eliminate her pain, and her doctor told her there was nothing more he could do. He released her to work, but told her to stay off her feet and not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. He suggested she find a job as a receptionist or something along those lines.

Even though her doctor released Mary to work, she is disabled upon application of the Sedentary GRID. Her PRW as a Back-Hoe Operator was Medium level work. The Sedentary bookkeeper job, with an SVP 6, was not done long enough to learn how to do it, and thus is not PRW. Mary was refused the special training that would provide for direct entry into skilled work.

Mary’s doctor limited her lifting to a gallon of milk (which weighs 8 pounds) and advised her to stay off her feet. Thus, Mary can perform Sedentary work at most.

The Social Security Administration does not apply the GRID age categories “mechanically,” so the fact that Mary was only 49 years and 10 months old, will not prohibit application of the Sedentary GRID.

So, even though there is no dispute that Mary could perform Sedentary work, her age significantly affects her eligibility for benefits. If Mary was 40 years old, and everything else was the same, she would NOT be eligible for disability benefits.

This is a somewhat simplistic explanation of the GRID. There are other aspects to it, including how far you went in school, literacy and whether you can communicate in English. If your impairments limit you to unskilled work, transferability of skills may not be an issue. If you are over 60 years old, a different set of rules is applied to the transferability of skills issue.

If you believe you are disabled under the GRID, and have questions about it, please call Maddox & Laffoon for a free consultation.