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Going Off Social Security Disability


Updated June 30, 2014

Dear Guides:

I am receiving Social Security disability payments but am working on increasing my skills by more training so I can go back to work. I am concerned that in the interim, change-over period (transition) I could lose my benefits before I fully stabilize my future employment, resulting in premature loss of benefits. Where can I find out more about SSI and how to prepare and avoid this happening?

John F.

Dear John--

Researching Social Security on the internet is a little like falling face-first into a swamp and getting gunk in your eyes and ears, so that you start lurching around only half able to see and hear. So first, we need to clarify some terms and acronyms so we know we are all talking about the same thing!

Let's start with SSA Publication No. 05-10006. About halfway down the page there we find this information:

    There are five major categories of benefits paid for through your Social Security taxes: retirement, disability, family benefits, survivors and Medicare. (SSI benefits, which are not financed by Social Security taxes, are discussed in another section.)
John, in your letter you referred to both Social Security Disability (SSD) and SSI. Actually, these are two different things, and your options will be a little different depending on which program your payments are actually coming from - but more on that later.

SSD payments can be made to qualified people who once worked and paid Social Security taxes or to survivors of such people. SSI - which, we were surprised to learn, actually stands for Supplemental Security Income - is paid to people who are 65 or older or are disabled. Whether a person receives SSI disability or SSD may depend on whether the person paid substantial Social Security taxes before becoming disabled.

Now we introduce you to the acronym PASS - Plan for Achieving Self Support. PASS is one key to going back to work without immediately losing all income from SSI or SSD. According to Working While Disabled (SSA Publication No. 05-11017), PASS lets you set aside money and/or other things you own to help you reach your goal.

The next thing to look at is SSA Publication No. 05-10095, Working While Disabled - How We Can Help. If you are receiving SSD, the relevant section is What You Should Know About Social Security Work Incentives; if you are receiving SSI disability, the section to read is "What You Should Know About SSI Work Incentives." Each of these sections contains a detailed example of how your income from Social Security would be affected by a PASS. (The other sections of this publication should be read in either case.)

John - dealing with the government is never easy, but we hope you find this information helps smooth your path. We wish you all the best for success in reaching your goals, and salute you for your courage. Please let us know how you fare!

Other useful publications from the Social Security Administration:

Additional Resource: Updated 5/21/06

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