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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.

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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

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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.