I'm on SSDI. Can I Work and Keep My Disability Benefits?

  • March 22nd, 2024

Man who uses wheel chair working in brewery.For adults receiving disability benefits, pursuing a career is often not an option. To receive such benefits, an individual must not be able to engage in "substantial gainful activity." The federal government defines substantial gainful activity as earning more than $1,550 a month (in 2024) through employment.

However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does offer several programs to encourage disability benefits recipients to hold a job. The best-known program is Ticket to Work. Although the program is somewhat complicated, it provides people on disability the opportunity to work without losing these benefits.

Qualifying for SSDI Benefits

A person facing a chronic health condition or a serious injury may need to rely on disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal government assistance program that provides financial support to people with disabilities. Those who qualify have a physical or mental disability that is likely to last more than a year or result in death. As mentioned above, their impairment must also prevent them from engaging in substantial gainful activity.

Local Special Needs Planners in Your City

Planner name

Firm Name
City, State

Planner name

Firm Name
City, State

Planner name

Firm Name
City, State

According to SSA rules, an SSDI recipient (who is not blind) cannot earn more than $1,550 a month (as of 2024) through a job. (A working individual who is blind cannot earn more than $2,590 a month.) This income restriction applies only to income earned by working. An SSDI applicant can receive unearned income from any source other than employment and still qualify for the program.

How much the person's SSDI benefit will be depends on the following:

  • their income before they became disabled,
  • the size of their family, and
  • the amount they paid into the Social Security system.

SSDI and the Ticket to Work Program

The Ticket to Work program provides individuals receiving disability benefits with an incentive to rejoin the workforce. By taking part, they can earn income and enhance their financial independence without losing their vital monthly SSDI payment. People also have the chance to build skills on the job, improve their standard of living, and enjoy free services such as career counseling.

Through this program, any month in which an SSDI recipient earns more than $1,110 (in 2024) counts as a month of "trial work." This trial work period helps an individual weigh whether they would ultimately be able to return to the workforce. Over the course of five years, they have nine "trial" months to earn this level of income without losing their SSDI. (The program does not require that these nine months are consecutive.)

Once the individual has had nine months (during the five-year trial work period) in which they earned more than the $1,110 limit, the trial ends. When this happens, the SSDI recipient does not receive an SSDI payment in any month where they make "substantial earnings" of more than $1,550 (in 2024). For three years after their trial period ends, they can immediately regain benefits if they fall below this substantial earnings level and still have a disability.

Adults aged 18 to 64 who receive SSDI are eligible for Ticket to Work, which is entirely voluntary.

Visit the SSA's Ticket to Work website for details or call the program helpline at 866-968-7842 (TTY 866-833-2967).

A Note on SSDI and Medicare

Some SSDI recipients receive Medicare benefits. Most people become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. However, this federal health insurance program also assists people younger than 65 who have a long-term disability.

If you qualify for Medicare because you receive SSDI, your Medicare coverage will continue for seven years after your trial work period ends.

SSI and Ticket to Work

Ticket to Work makes transitioning into the workforce a bit less burdensome. SSDI recipients do not have to worry about immediately losing their benefits if they want to work.

Unfortunately, the rules for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) income and asset levels are much stricter. This can make it harder for an SSI recipient to hold a full-time job (even under Ticket to Work) and maintain their benefits.

Learn More

Numerous other programs beyond Ticket to Work are available for people with disabilities interested in seeking employment. These include the PASS program and AbilityOne. Keep in mind that some states also offer Medicaid buy-in programs for workers with disabilities.

The rules for most of these programs are often complicated, so be sure to work with your special needs planning attorney.

If you are a parent of a child with a disability, consult with your attorney well before your child turns 18. You may also want to seek out the assistance of local vocational agencies. Together, these resources can offer the best chance for successfully navigating the maze of potential educational and employment opportunities. 


Created date: 01/05/2009


View All Special Needs Topics Questions & Answers Directory of Pooled Trusts Directory of ABLE Accounts