Because Social Security disability payments are often not enough to live on, it will be important for you to collect all the other benefits to which you may be entitled and even try to supplement your income by working a little, if you are able.
If you earn regular income, you might not be considered disabled any longer, and you could lose your disability eligibility altogether. You are only officially disabled if you are unable to perform "substantial gainful work" (SGA). However, Social Security usually permits you to earn up to about $1,040 a month (or more if you are blind) before you will be considered to be performing substantial gainful work. But this income limit is not an absolute rule if you own your own business. In that case, other facts may be considered, including your work duties, the number of hours you work, and the extent to which you run or manage your own business. Also, you are entitled to a nine-month trial work period during which you can make over the SGA amount.
In deciding how much you are earning, the Social Security office can deduct from your income the amounts of any disability-related work expenses, such as medical devices or equipment—a wheelchair, for example—attendant care, drugs, or services you require to be able to work.
You are not permitted to collect more than one Social Security benefit at a time. If you are eligible for more than one monthly benefit—disability and early retirement, for example, or disability based on your own work record and also as the disabled spouse of a retired worker—you may receive the higher of the two benefit amounts, but not both.
For the purposes of this rule, though, Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—a program jointly run by federal and state governments to guarantee a minimum income to elderly, blind, and disabled people—is not considered a Social Security benefit. You may collect SSI in addition to a Social Security benefit.
You are permitted to collect Social Security disability payments and, at the same time, private disability payments from an insurance policy or coverage from your employer. You may also receive Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits at the same time as Social Security disability benefits.
While you may collect workers’ compensation benefits at the same time as Social Security disability benefits, the total of your disability and workers’ compensation payments cannot be greater than 80% of what your average wages were before you became disabled. If they are, your Social Security disability benefits will be reduced to the point where the total of both benefits is 80% of your earnings before you became disabled. If you are still receiving Social Security disability benefits when your workers’ compensation benefits run out, you can again start receiving the full amount of your Social Security benefits.
EXAMPLE: Minnie became disabled while working for the telephone company in the computer analysis department. At that time, she was making $1,400 a month. Her Social Security disability benefits were $560 a month; she also applied for and began receiving workers’ compensation benefits of $625 a month. Because the total of the two benefits was more than 80% of her prior salary (80% of $1,400 is $1,120, and she would be getting $1,185), her disability benefits were reduced by the extra $65 down to $560 per month.
If Minnie is still disabled when her workers’ compensation benefits run out, her Social Security disability benefits will go back up to $560 a month, plus whatever cost of living increases had been granted in the meantime. If Minnie also had private insurance that paid disability benefits, she could receive those benefits as well as all of her Social Security.
To learn more, read Nolo's article on the Social Security disability offset for workers' comp.
State Disability Benefits
A few states, including New York and California, offer temporary disability benefits alongside their unemployment insurance programs. Call your local unemployment insurance office or labor department to determine whether your state maintains this kind of coverage. You can receive state disability insruance payments at the same time as SSDI. Visit Nolo's section on state disability benefits to see if your state offers them.
After you have been entitled to disability benefits for 24 months, you become eligible for Medicare coverage, even if you are not old enough to be covered by Medicare under the regular rules of the program. (In general, the two-year waiting period is calculated from the date your disability began plus five months -- due to the five-month waiting period for Social Security disability.)
Medicare Part A hospitalization coverage is free after you pay a deductible. If you want to be covered by Medicare Part B medical insurance that partially covers doctor bills, lab work, outpatient clinic care, and some drugs and medical supplies, you must pay a monthly premium unless you qualify for a Medicare Savings Program.