Ask Atticus: Can I Work While Waiting for Disability?
September 30, 2022 · 2 min read
I applied for disability benefits a few months ago and I’m still waiting to hear back. But I need some money to take care of myself and my family! Am I allowed to work while waiting for disability? I was thinking of picking up a few hours a week delivering Instacart orders. Will that cause me to lose benefits? I need to pay my bills but I don’t know what to do. What are my options?
Disabled with Bills to Pay
Dear Disabled with Bills to Pay,
It’s a tough predicament and rest assured you’re not alone. Many people struggle to make ends meet while they’re waiting for disability benefits. You’re doing the right thing by getting informed, and there are two main things to know.
First, it is possible to hold a job while on disability (and while applying for benefits), but you have to be very careful. If you work too much or make close to $1,470 per month, the Social Security Administration might think that you don’t need disability benefits.
Second, your ability to work depends on whether you’re applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Let’s briefly look at both.
Working while waiting for SSDI
You can work while waiting for SSDI, but the SSA may reject your application if it decides that your work activity is substantial or gainful. Substantial means that you’re working close to the same amount as before your disability (or as if you never had a disability). Gainful describes how much money you’re making that you pay taxes on. Specifically, are you making enough to support yourself without benefits?
In 2023, the maximum income that most people can make while still receiving disability benefits is $1,470 per month. This is gross income (before taxes or insurance are removed). Just earning close to this limit could be enough for a judge to deny you benefits.
It is possible to make “passive income” on SSDI, like from renting properties as a landlord or making money off the stock market.
Working while waiting for SSI
Supplemental Security Income is a bit different since it’s based on financial need, not work history. To qualify for SSI, you need to meet the income and asset limits. You must make less than $914 per month and have less than $2,000 in overall resources — savings, investments, etc. Any work income that puts you over these limits will put you at risk of having your application rejected or losing your benefits.
So, with all that said, what other options do you have to make ends meet?
Explore other assistance programs. Many federal and state programs offer assistance for people and families who need help paying for health care, food, housing, or utilities. Call 211 or visit FindHelp to learn what programs may be available to you.
Try short-term disability programs in some states. If you live in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, or Washington state, you may qualify for short-term benefits provided by the state.
Connect with a disability lawyer. People often end up working with a lawyer after their initial application is rejected. For anyone applying for disability benefits, we recommend finding someone from the get-go. A disability lawyer can help you build the strongest case and inform you on work decisions so you don’t lose or jeopardize your benefits.
Talk with your caseworker. If you already receive benefits, you should have an SSA caseworker. Talk to them any time you consider taking a new job or extra work. Your caseworker is a supportive and knowledgeable ally, so be transparent with them about your financial situation. They can help you understand your options and properly report income so that your benefits aren’t disrupted.
Look into the Ticket to Work program. This program provides opportunities like career counseling, work training, and job placement. If you’d like to go back to work but aren’t sure how to start, ask your caseworker to connect you with this program.
Still not sure what to do? If you’re applying for disability benefits, fill out this short disability quiz and we’ll reach out to answer your questions and connect you with an experienced disability lawyer. (Our service is free and you only pay the lawyer if you win your claim.)
There’s better times ahead. We’re here to help.
All the best,
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Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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