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Unsuccessful Work Attempt - SSI/DI Work Incentive

The Social Security Administration defines an "Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA)" as an effort by a disabled individual to do substantial work that either stopped or produced earnings below the Substantial Gainful Activity level within 6 months because of:

     The individual's disabling condition; or

     Elimination of the special services or assistance that the individual needed in order to work.

When the disabled individual worked in excess of 3 months, but less than 6 months there is an additional requirement that:

     There must have been frequent absences due to the impairment; or

     The work must have been unsatisfactory due to the impairment; or

     The work must have been done during a period of temporary remission of the impairment; or

     The work must have been done under special conditions.

ALERT: All work activity must be reported to SSA. You should always contact SSA before you engage in any work activity to determine what effect, if any, working might have on your SSI and/or SSDI benefits.

If you have not received a final determination notification (SSA calls this an "Award Certificate" form SSA-L-30C1, and it shows your established onset date and your month of entitlement to benefits), then your claim may not be finally adjudicated. This could mean that SSA has not determined an established date of onset, which could be different than either the date of your application or your alleged onset date. It could also mean that SSA has not made a determination of your disability.

Returning to work at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level under the conditions listed above, or during the five-month application waiting period for SSDI, or within one year of the established date of onset, could possibly result in SSA determining that your disability has ceased and that you are not eligible for SSI and/or SSDI.

How Does an Unsuccessful Work Attempt Affect Benefits?

The UWA Work Incentive is one of the most poorly understood of the Social Security Work Incentives.

We will attempt to explain below how UWA applies in the eligibility process, the determination of cash benefit amounts, and termination from the program for both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

UWA & Eligibility

The UWA policy applies when SSA is initially determining whether or not you are disabled. If you engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) within one year of the onset of your disability, then SSA ordinarily determines that you are not disabled according to the SSA definition that a disability must be expected to be of at least one-year duration. If your work attempt is determined to be an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA), however, you would not be determined ineligible because of engaging in SGA.

NOTE: If you received a Final Determination of Eligibility for SSI before engaging in SGA, then you should not be determined ineligible even if your work attempt occurs within one year of onset and is successful.

If you received a Final Determination of Eligibility for SSDI before engaging in SGA, then you should not be determined ineligible if your work attempt occurs after the end of the SSDI waiting period but within one year of onset even if your work attempt is successful.

The UWA policy is also used in continuing disability cases in determining whether, because of work activity, your disability continues or ceases.

UWA & Cash Benefit Payments

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): For SSI recipients, UWA has no affect on the SSI Cash Benefit Amount. SSI cash benefits are paid in accordance with the rules for Calculating SSI Cash Benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): For SSDI recipients, UWA criteria do apply in determining whether you should receive a payment for a particular month during the first 36 months of your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) unless you have already established during your EPE that you can work at the SGA level.

NOTE: The first 36 months of the EPE is called the "Re-entitlement Period." During your Re-entitlement Period you are entitled to receive your SSDI benefit for any month that you do not engage in SGA.

A couple of examples will perhaps best explain how UWA can affect SSDI payments.

Example 1: James earns $600 a month for 9 months from January 1, 2001 through September 30, 2001. This amount is large enough so that James completes his Trial Work Period (TWP), but it is not at the SGA level ($740 in 2001).

James continues to earn $600 a month for 2 more months. During those 2 months, James continues to receive his SSDI cash benefit because he is not engaging in SGA.

James begins working more hours and earns $1,000 per month for 3 months.

His disability flairs up and he is forced to stop working due to his impairment. He contacts his SSA Claims Representative and informs them of his attempt to work more hours and the reason why he had to stop. Based on the fact that James had been working below the SGA level before increasing his hours of work activity, and since he stopped work due to his impairment, SSA determines that James did have a UWA. Therefore James is entitled to benefits for the months he was earning $1000, because SSA rules that the work activity was not SGA.

NOTE: Because SSA ruled that James had not engaged in SGA, James did not trigger his three-month Grace Period. If he were to later have earnings exceeding SGA, he would receive payments for that month and the next two months.

Example 2: Gerry earned $1000 a month from January 2000 through September of 2000. Her Trial Work Period (TWP) was completed, and her Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) began in October of 2000. Gerry continued to work above the SGA level for the first 7 months of her EPE. She is forced to stop working due to her impairment in the 8th month of her EPE. Gerry is not entitled to an UWA because her SGA level work activity was not of a short duration (6 months or less).

SSA would determine that Gerry's disability has ceased since she engaged in SGA. Gerry would, however, be eligible for a Grace Period, which would allow her to receive benefits for October 2000 and the following two months, even though she is working above SGA.

Gerry would receive payments for the 8th month and any other months she is unable to engage in SGA during her EPE, but she would not receive payments for any months that she earned SGA after her Grace Period.

After a few months, Gerry feels able to try working again. She once again earns $1,000 per month. Her payments stop. She earns $1,000 per month for three months before she has a relapse and is once again unable to work. Since she is still in her Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) her payments resume. She asks her SSA Claims Representative to determine her three months to have been an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA). The Claims Representative informs her that since she has already been determined to have previously worked at the SGA level during her EPE, the UWA rules no longer apply.

UWA and Termination of Benefits

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): For SSI recipients, UWA has no affect on the termination of SSI benefits. SSI benefits for individual who earn over SGA are determined in accordance with 1619(a) and 1619(b).

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): UWA rules do not apply after you have successfully engaged in SGA in the EPE. If you successfully engaged in SGA, then you will be terminated from the program on the first month that you engage in SGA after the 36th month of your EPE (after the Re-entitlement Period).

If you never engaged in SGA during the first 36 months of your EPE and subsequently had earnings over the SGA level, you would be terminated unless you are determined to have an Unsuccessful Work Activity (UWA).

NOTE: The Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Improvement Act of 1999 (TWWIIA) allows for Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits for up to 5 years following termination of your benefits.

Example 3: Eric is working making $600.00 a month. TWP is completed. (January through September of 2000). EPE begins October 2000. Eric's EPE can go on forever as long as he continues to perform non-SGA level work activity, but he is only eligible for "reinstatement" of his payments from October of 2000 through September of 2003 (the Re-entitlement Period the first 36 months of his EPE).

If Eric never works above SGA (i.e. is never ceased because of SGA level work activity) and then after September of 2003 he works one month, and then stops due to his impairment, and all other factors of a UWA are met, SSA would not terminate Eric's benefits. Instead SSA would rule that the one month was a UWA, and payments would continue.

On the other hand, if Eric works in November of 2003, and makes $1000.00 and SSA CANNOT rule an UWA because he was laid off instead of him stopping due to health reasons, then benefits would terminate.

Furthermore, if Eric had worked above SGA levels during the 36-month re-entitlement period (October 2000 through September of 2003) and SSA ceased benefit payments for those months because of his SGA level work activity, then UWA rules can no longer apply.

If Eric were to be reinstated in the 36-month period but then Eric were to work one month after the end of the 36-month, benefits would terminate, because SSA already ceased benefits because of SGA, so UWA rules would no longer apply, and unless there is any other work incentives that can apply to bring his work activity below SGA, benefits would terminate.

See Also:

SSI Work Incentives

SSDI Work Incentives


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