Kevin’s Story

Kevin was 38 years old when a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. He had about $10,000 in the bank, but it wouldn’t last long. Money was going to be tight, because he couldn't go back to his job as an auto mechanic and he didn't have any private disability insurance to help pay the bills.

Fortunately, a relative told Kevin about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a public program that helps people who cannot work because of a disability.

SSDI had a three-step application process:

  1. Kevin would fill out an application, an Adult Disability Report, and give Social Security any other necessary documentation about his earned income, work history, and disability.
  2. Social Security would check Kevin’s work history to see if he’d worked long enough while paying Social Security taxes to qualify for SSDI benefits.
  3. Social Security would check Kevin’s condition to see whether he had a disability.

SSDI Eligibility

Kevin was pretty sure he’d qualify for SSDI because:

  • He wasn’t working, so he had no earnings and was below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.
  • His disabling condition was severe and expected to last more than a year.
  • His disabling condition was on Social Security’s List of Impairments.
  • He’d been working and paying Social Security taxes for more than 15 years.

Approval

Kevin applied for SSDI benefits and two months later, he got a letter in the mail. He’d been approved for $1,500 per month in SSDI benefits.

Because of SSDI’s five-month waiting period before benefits begin, Kevin had to wait another three months for his first SSDI benefits payment. When SSDI began, it was a great relief: The monthly SSDI payment was a huge help with rent, groceries, and other expenses.

Two Years Later

Two years after SSDI began, Kevin automatically started getting Medicare health coverage, which helped pay his medical expenses. Around the same time, Kevin started thinking about going back to work, but he was worried about a couple of things:

  • First, he didn't know if he'd be able to work again. Being an auto mechanic was out, but he hoped there were other options.
  • Second, he didn't understand how work and a higher income might affect his SSDI benefits. What if his job didn't work out? Would he have to reapply for SSDI?

Kevin talked to a Work Incentive Consultant to get some answers.

SSDI Work Incentives

To Kevin’s relief, he learned that Social Security offers many incentives to help people work.

First, every SSDI beneficiary gets a nine-month Trial Work Period (TWP). During the TWP, Kevin could try out working and keep getting his full SSDI benefits, no matter how much he made.

If he used up the Trial Work Period, Kevin would get a three-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). During the EPE, the first three months he had earnings over the SGA level ($1,220 per month in 2019), he'd still get SSDI benefits. After this three-month grace period, he would still get SSDI benefits in any month where his monthly earnings were at the SGA level or less, but wouldn't get benefits when his earnings were higher than SGA.

After the EPE ended, Kevin would keep getting SSDI if his earnings were at or below the SGA level. If his earnings went over the SGA level, his SSDI benefits would end, but he would have a five-year period of Expedited Reinstatement. During this time, he could apply for reinstatement of benefits if he needed it and get up to six months of temporary SSDI benefits. During the six months, Social Security would do a medical review to see if Kevin still met their disability requirements. If so, he would continue getting SSDI benefits without having to reapply.

These rules made it easy for Kevin to give work a try. He got a job as a sales representative for an auto parts manufacturer and it turned out to be a great fit; he became one of the top salesmen in Tucson! SSDI helped him while he couldn't work, and the program’s work incentives gave him the confidence to try working again.