What is Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility?


Do you know what trial work period and extended proof of eligibility? One of the key requirements to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is that you must not be able to earn a meaningful wage due to your disability. However, your medical condition may improve over time. And you may be able to finally earn wages that are above the limit set by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

When this happens, you are legally required to report the change in your earning status. SSA does not immediately terminate SSDI payments when notified about such a change. An abrupt end to payments can put many SSDI recipients in financial distress, even if they have started earning a meaningful wage.

For this purpose, SSDI has several programs in place which allow you to transition from being a recipient to a non-recipient. The two most notable of these programs are the Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility.

What is Trial Work Period?

When you start earning wages that SSA believes qualify as a significant amount of money, or work activity, your trial work period begins. If you earn above $940 a month in 2021, this counts as a part of the trial work. If you are self-employed and work above 80 hours a month on your business, such a month is also considered a trial work month.

Every month you work or earn above these limits is counted as a part of the trial work period. If you work at least nine trial work months in a 60-month period, your trial work period is complete. These nine months can be consecutive or distributed across the 60-month period in any way. Once you have worked nine work months, the trial work period ends and the Extended Period of Eligibility begins.

During the trial work period, you continue to receive the full amount of your SSDI benefits. The only condition is that you must continue to have a disabling impairment.

What is the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)?

Once your trial work period ends, EPE kicks in. This is another 36-month period of transition. During this period, you can continue to work while also receiving the SSDI benefits. During the EPE, SSA makes a decision on whether or not to pay you benefits on a month-to-month basis. If you earn below the SSA limit in a given month, you receive the SSDI payment. When you earn above this limit in a given month, you do not receive the benefits.

The threshold that determines whether a given month will be counted is also different than the trial work period. SSA uses the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit to decide whether or not you are making a substantial wage. For 2021, an SGA wage for non-blind SSDI recipients is $1,310. For blind recipients, the SGA limit is $2,190.

So if you earn above this limit during the EPE, you do not qualify for SSDI payments in that particular month. For every month your earnings fall below the SGA, you still receive the SSDI payments. This continues for a period of 36 months.

There are also some exceptions to suspension in months when you work above SGA. The first month you work above SGA during EPE is when SSA decides that your disability has ‘ceased.’ During this month and the two consecutive two months when you earn above SGA, SSA still pays you the full benefits. After that, the benefits stop if you continue to earn above SGA. If you fall below SGA once again during the 36-month period, the benefits restart.

What Happens After EPE?

Once the 36-month EPE period ends, SSA stops paying you SSDI benefits the very first month you earn above the SGA amount. However, if your earnings once again fall below the SGA limit on account of your disability, you have the option of availing of Expedited Reinstatement.

Expedited reinstatement allows you to reapply for SSDI benefits without the hassle of going through the long wait period of a new application’s processing. Instead, your application is processed quickly and while it is pending, you are paid benefits for six months. In most cases, SSA also restores the benefits once again granted that your disability still exists.

The expedited reinstatement period continues for five years. After this period expires, you must file a new application if you want to seek SSDI benefits once again.

Finding Reliable Disability Lawyers in Columbia, SC

If you are applying for SSDI benefits, we can help you. Here at Robert Surface Law Firm, we have helped countless applicants in Columbia, SC receive benefits for their disabilities. We can also work with you if you want to transition into the programs explained above. Call us today to book a free session with our lawyers.