I’m often asked if a person can work while filing for Social Security Disability benefits. People know that the wait for receiving a decision on their disability claim can take up to two years or more. Most couples would not be able to survive with one of the two not working at all for two years.

The prospect is frightening.

But the first step that the Social Security Administration looks at in deciding if someone is disabled or not is whether or not that person has worked since they filed for Social Security Disability benefits.

The question is actually whether or not the person has performed “substantial gainful activity” since the person filed. This amount changes each year. For 2015 the amount was $1090 gross per month before taxes are taken out. The amount was $1820 for blind individuals. For 2016 this amount rises to $1130 per month and is still $1820 for the blind.

So technically a person is allowed to make this amount of money and it not affect their Social Security Disability benefits. However, how this plays out in real life can be completely different.

Say that a person was working and was out of work for six months and then goes back to work at a different job making $1000 per month which is less than $1130/month (the 2016 SGA amount). If that person has to eventually go to a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the ALJ will closely scrutinize this work activity.

The ALJ will ask if that person is working part-time or full-time? Why are their earnings just below the SGA level? Would they be allowed to work more hours if they wanted? Are they physically/mentally able to work more hours if it was offered to him/her?

In practice I have found it difficult to be successful in a claim where the person is working and making even a few hundred dollars below the SGA level. If a client has worked making just below SGA level and then had to stop because of his/her condition, I have had ALJs find the person disabled after they stopped working.

I have been more successful if a person is making just a few hundred dollars per month.

In the next post, I’ll tell you other ways a person can be found disabled even if they’re working.