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Why Social Security Recipients Do Not Return to Work

Posted on:1/30/2013
For individuals in the United States who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations regarding the effect of earned income on benefits are often perceived as posing a substantial barrier to employment.

Most people with mental illness are aware that their illness can flair up at any time. In the event of a relapse, Social Security may be the only source of income available. The fear of losing one's benefits, coupled with the fear that one may not be able to sustain employment, makes the perceived risk of attempting employment very great. In fact, the perceived risk is often much greater than the actual risk.


The regulations for SSI employ a formula for determining specific reductions in cash benefits as a result of earned income. The person's cash benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 the person earns in excess of any exclusions to which the person is entitled. Those exclusions may include an earned income exclusion and a general income exclusion. These exclusions are earnings that Social Security allows without effect on benefits.


The SSDI recipient is entitled to a trial work period (TWP) of nine months during which his or her SSDI cash benefit is protected even though the person is earning wages. This period is followed by an extended period of eligibility (EPE) of thirty six months during which time the person's entitlement to the cash benefit will depend on whether or not the person's earnings exceed the amount that is considered to be substantial gainful activity (SGA). There is no formula to reduce the SSDI amount. Instead, it is an all or nothing proposition. The person either receives the SSDI cash benefit or he or she does not.

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