The Social Security Administration authorizes monthly payments for people in California when their medical conditions prevent them from earning a sufficient living. Although replacement income is the purpose of the program, SSA does recognize that recipients may work under some circumstances. They may work while awaiting the outcome of a benefits application and work while collecting disability under specific circumstances.

The system imposes a threshold for maximum earnings while pursuing or receiving benefits. The concept of sustained gainful activity determines this earnings threshold. People with pending disability claims may continue working as long as their gross monthly pay does not go over the substantial gainful activity income threshold. If gross earnings exceed the threshold, then the agency will deny the claim.

For people already collecting Title II SSDI benefits, the agency has a trial work program. The SSA recognizes that the return to work may not succeed. For this reason, a recipient will continue to receive benefits even if their earnings surpass the SGA threshold during a nine-month trial period. In the 10th month, income over the SGA limit will cause benefits to stop.

Qualifying for disability benefits and maintaining eligibility are important to a person coping with a long-term, disabling condition. Legal advice and support may be appropriate during the application process. If questions arise about earnings and eligibility during a trial work period, the applicant may want to reach out to a lawyer. An attorney might explain the disability eligibility requirements so that the applicant understands how to proceed. An attorney’s knowledge of the Social Security bureaucracy may help the client submit sufficient documentation to illustrate the medical need for benefits and prove that current income has not exceeded the SGA threshold.