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Can I Apply for Disability Even If I'm Still Earning Money?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

disability benefits, Chicago Social Security attorney, apply for disability, disability claim, Illinois disability caseThe Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to determine whether or not someone is eligible for disability benefits. At the first step, a Social Security administrative law judge will “consider your work activity.” Legally, a person is only considered disabled if he or she has been unable to “do any substantial gainful activity” due to their medical impairments “for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In plain English, you generally need to be out of work for at least one year before you can apply for disability.

Judge Rejects Fired Schoolteacher's Disability Claim

This is not to say you cannot earn any money in the 12 months preceding the alleged onset date of your disability. Social Security defines “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) as a monthly threshold. For example, in 2018 a person may earn up to $1,180 per month and still qualify for disability benefits (or $1,970 if they are blind). There are also cases where a handicapped person may engage in “sheltered employment” without it constituting SGA.

Nevertheless, the burden is on the applicant to prove his or her income does not run afoul of the SGA rules. Consider this recent disability case from here in Illinois. The plaintiff applied for disability benefits in 2013, alleging an onset date of 2010. Under the MGA rules in effect for 2010, the plaintiff's MGA threshold was $1,000 per month.

The plaintiff previously worked as a full-time teacher for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Until she was fired in September 2010, the plaintiff earned approximately $4,800 per month. Obviously, this exceeded the $1,000 MGA threshold. Social Security determined that the sheltered employment exception did not apply, so it denied her application for disability benefits at step 1 of the process.

The plaintiff appealed, but a federal judge upheld Social Security's decision. As the judge explained, there was simply “no evidence that CPS provided any accommodations to [the plaintiff] resembling a sheltered work environment.” Aside from providing her with some assistance in grading papers, there was no proof of an “institutional program” in place to help disabled employees. Indeed, CPS fired the plaintiff because of her disability—specifically, her lack of visual acuity, which prevented her from seeing students in the back of her classroom.

The judge also rejected the plaintiff's argument that her 2010 employment constituted a “trial work period.” This refers to a provision of Social Security rules that allows someone who is already receiving disability benefits to “work and still be considered disabled.” However, this was inapplicable to the plaintiff's case, since she worked at the school “before she applied for benefits.”

A Cook County Disability Benefits Lawyer Can Help You

As you can see, there are a lot of rules and requirements a person must follow when seeking disability benefits. But there is no reason you need to face the process alone. If you need assistance from a qualified Chicago Social Security disability attorney, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC today.



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