A question I am asked nearly every week is “can I work and at the same time apply for Social Security disability benefits?” This question makes perfect sense. Some people feel, because of sickness or injury, that they can no longer work in the same way that they were able to work when they were much younger. They are ready to stop working and receive disability, a benefit for which they paid “into” for years. They want to avoid a gap in money coming into the household between the time they stop working and the time they begin to receive disability benefits. Other people have determined that the money they might receive from Social Security disability will not be sufficient to pay their ongoing debts. Therefore, they wish to “supplement” their monthly Social Security disability benefit by working. Others, who have stopped working due to illness or injury, begin to feel better after a while. They want to test their ability to work while their disability application is being considered.
The answer to the question is complicated. Social Security’s federal disability programs are rooted in the concept that a person who is too sick or injured to engage in work activity should receive disability payments. So what is “work activity” in the Social Security world?