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Q: My brother-in-law has been on SSDI for almost three years due to bipolar disorder. For the last eight months, he has been working part-time for me at my t-shirt printing shop. His wages are well below the earning limits for SSDI. Now he’s been told his be

A:

We’re sorry to hear your brother-in-law has been having trouble with his disability claim. It may be possible for him to continue to receive federal benefits, but much will depend on the specific facts in his case and his ability to persuade an administrative law judge that his benefits should continue.

Jerry’s case isn’t unique. As Social Security attorneys, we have often heard that the Social Security Administration sends mixed messages about income and eligibility. Officially, the SSA says it’s compassionate about people trying to retain a measure of independence through work. But caseworkers are too eager to terminate benefits when disabled Americans try to ease back into the workforce. Your brother-in-law is trapped between these two conflicting impulses.

As you know, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides monthly income for people who have had a strong work history and now find themselves unable to hold a job due to a serious, lasting disability. To remain eligible, a program participant may earn only a tiny income—a maximum of about $1,010 a month at the time we write this. This maximum amount is adjusted every year.

At the same time, the Social Security Administration sponsors a number of “work incentive” options that encourage people to move back into the workforce when they have recovered from their disabilities. Programs such as the Trial Work Period and the Ticket to Work are designed to ease the transition back to regular employment. A disabled person enrolled in one of these programs is protected from being thrown off SSDI based on his work activity. But you need prior approval to join these programs, and you don’t mention that your brother-in-law, Jerry, was a participant.

Being registered for one of these programs might not have been helpful, anyway. The rules say that program participants can’t have their benefits terminated based on work activity alone. However, Social Security caseworkers use medical continuing disability review reports to terminate SSDI benefits for program participants. They say that being able to work, even in a limited degree, indicates that the person’s medical condition no longer is disabling. That seems to be what has happened to Jerry.

It’s not too late to act. There is a 60-day period to appeal a decision to stop SSDI benefits. That doesn’t give Jerry a great deal of time to prepare a response, so this matter should be dealt with some urgency. The first step should be contacting a trusted disability attorney who can examine Jerry’s case in depth and help prepare a response to the termination letter.

Our Pennsylvania disability lawyers at Schmidt Kramer have helped hundreds of SSDI recipients keep their benefits when caseworkers have moved to cut them off. Call us at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review or to sign up for our FREE client newsletter.