SSA Encourages Those on Disability to Work — Until It Doesn’t

The federal government says it encourages people receiving federal disability payments to find jobs—but sometimes ends up discouraging them from working at all, a study has found.

People enrolled in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are allowed to earn a limited amount each month—a ceiling that is $1,350 for 2022—and still receive benefits. But when the Social Security Administration finds it has overpaid a recipient’s benefit—perhaps because it didn’t process information on their earnings or because the individual with disabilities failed to notify officials about a new job—it slaps them with a demand for repayment for what can sometimes amount to several months-worth of disability payments.

When that happens, people often reduce their hours or stop working altogether, according to a study by Mathematica, commissioned by the SSA. That would appear to work against the SSA’s intention of encourage recipients to work and even eventually to exit SSDI altogether.

The researchers were testing the accuracy of some reports that notification of “work-related overpayments cause beneficiaries to take a negative view of work and to stop engaging in [work].”  They found that notices of overpayment were associated with a 3 to 4 percent drop in the number of notice recipients engaging in gainful employment.

While this study relates to SSDI and not Supplemental Security Income (SSI), it is reasonable to assume a similar result.

The study is set to be published in an upcoming issue of Contemporary Economic Policy.

To read a working paper on the study's findings, click here.

For a summary of the study’s findings from the Center for Retirement Research, click here.

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

This material was prepared by the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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