Braille Monitor                                                                                March 1986



Social Security and Trial Work: Facts You Need to Know

by James Gashel

I recently received an inquiry from a woman in Rupert, Idaho. She said she was calling for her husband. He is blind and receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. She was asking: "Can he work?" The caller said she had asked someone at the Social Security office the same question. Her husband had been offered a job as a dispatcher. It would be part-time work during the holidays. He expected to work three weeks, all in one month. For this he would be paid $660.

He had never worked before while receiving SSDI benefits. "How would the temporary work affect his checks, or would it?" That was the question the caller had raised with Social Security. But the answer she got from someone at the Social Security office was not to her liking. The caller said she was told that her husband definitely could not work. If he did, his checks would stop, or so she had inferred.

As an aside, the caller mentioned that she was coming to me on the advice of a rehabilitation counselor from the Idaho Commission for the Blind. Why would someone in Rupert, Idaho, need to call someone in Baltimore, Maryland, to get the straight about Social Security, especially when there is a Commission for the Blind in Idaho whose counselors are supposed to be helping the blind of Idaho try to find work? One would think that the rehabilitation people would know how the work of their clients would affect the receipt of Social Security benefits. They should certainly know what incentives there might be in the Social Security program in order to encourage the beneficiaries to attempt work. Anyway, this counselor from the Idaho Commission for the Blind did not know. So, he told the client to go to the blind themselves. It is not mysterious. We know the answer to such things.

In the circumstances I have just described, the caller from Idaho and her husband would not need to worry. Working would not stop the checks. The work in question with earnings of $660 or more would be counted as one month of trial work, that's all.

The rule is that a month of trial work is counted when earnings from the work are $75 or more. The trial work months need not be consecutive. Nine months of earnings over $75 will be evaluated to see whether a beneficiary is able to perform substantial gainful activity. Applying this rule, it is possible to use up an entire trial work period even though earnings may be intermittent and relatively low. Then, if a real good job comes alone, the beneficiary may be surprised to learn that all of the trial work months have been used. In the example from Idaho, that would be the disadvantage of accepting the dispatching job. Otherwise, there would be no actual effect on the continuation of cheeks or on their amount.

Something else you should know: After nine months of trial work have been used, the beneficiary who continues to work is still entitled to receive at least three more checks. These cover the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months after work first begins. Remember, the first nine months may be interrupted by short or even long gaps in the work.

After the twelfth month of work, entitlement to benefits stops if the work continues to represent substantial gainful activity. In the case of anyone who is blind, substantial gainful activity will not be found if earnings are less than $650 per month during 1986. So, benefits will continue indefinitely after the twelfth month and beyond for any blind beneficiary who is earning less than $650 per month.

Otherwise, blind people who earn more than this will not be entitled to checks. However, if work stops (or earnings are reduced to below $650 per month) any time during the second twelve months of trial work, re-entitlement to Social Security benefits is automatic. When someone at the Social Security office says you cannot work, it helps to understand the context of the answer.

It really means you cannot continue to perform substantial gainful activity after twelve months of trial work. Anyone who can perform substantial gainful activity is working, according to Social Security. Anyone who cannot perform substantial gainful activity is not working, and cannot work. But in the real world, outside of what you are told at the Social Security office, you can work and have earnings of any amount during a trial work period of twelve months and up to $650 per month thereafter. Those are the facts.