While in most cases, those who are approved for Social Security disability will continue to receive their benefit check for years to come, there are things that can cause your Social Security disability benefits to be terminated. If you’re applying for Social Security disability, or are currently receiving Social Security benefits, it’s important to be aware of what could make your disability benefits stop.
Social Security Disability (SSD) vs. SSI
What can cause your benefits to stop differs between the two separate disability benefit programs that are operated by the Social Security Administration (SSA), so let's take a brief look at the two programs. There's one exception to this rule: the rules surrounding cessation of benefits for medical improvement are the same for Social Security disability and SSI.
Social Security Disability Insurance (sometimes called SSD, or SSDI) is based on an individual having paid enough in Social Security taxes to be eligible for benefits. Someone who has not worked long enough, or recent enough, to have sufficient “work credits” is not eligible for SSD regardless of their disability.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program. It is not necessary to have paid Social Security taxes, or to have even worked, to be eligible for SSI. However, there are strict limits in the amount of income or assets that someone can have to qualify for SSI benefits.
Medical Improvement Can Stop Both SSD and SSI
If the medical or psychiatric condition(s) that make you disabled improve, the SSA could find that you are no longer disabled, making your benefit payments stop. This applies the same in both SSD and SSI claims.
Briefly, the SSA periodically reviews the case of all beneficiaries (usually in 3 or 7 year increments) to determine if they are still disabled. These “continuing disability reviews” are generally less strict than the standards used when applying for disability, and most disability beneficiaries continue to receive benefits after their review.
For more information, see our article on Continuing Disability Reviews.
What Else Can Cause SSD Benefits to Stop?
The most common reason for someone’s Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits to stop is because they have returned to work. While in some cases it’s possible to work while continuing to receive SSD payments, there are specific provisions that must be adhered to. (For dependents who receive SSD benefits based on someone else's earnings record, there are additional changes that can cause their benefits to stop, such as marriage, turning a certain age, or a change in living arrangements.)
Returning to Work
If you return to work while receiving SSD benefits, the SSA will determine if you are engaging in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). The biggest factor in determining if work qualifies as SGA is the amount a person is paid. In 2013, someone is generally considered to be engaging in SGA if he or she earns more than $1,070 ($1,800 for blind individuals.) However, this isn’t a cut and dry issue. It is possible for the SSA to determine that your job duties constitute SGA even if you are earning less than this amount.
An exception to the SGA rule is what’s referred to as a “trial work period” (TWP). This period of time allows someone who is currently receiving SSD benefits to attempt to return to work without automatically losing their SSD eligibility. If you return to work while receiving benefits and earn more than $770 per month (in 2014), the SSA will consider this the start of a trial work period. Although there are some additional considerations, in most cases you can work for up to 9 months without causing your SSD benefits to stop. If you are able to maintain employment successfully for over 9 months averaging over the SGA level, you will no longer be considered disabled and your Social Security payments will stop. For more information, see our article on the trial work period, and the three-year time period that follows, the "extended period of eligibility."
Reaching Retirement Age
Social Security disability beneficiaries who reach full retirement age will see their disability benefits stop, since you cannot receive both Social Security disability benefits and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time.will instead receive payments under the Social Security retirement benefits program.
Being Incarcerated or Institutionalized
If you are confined to a prison or other penal institution after being convicted of a crime, your disability benefits will stop for the period of time you are incarcerated. In addition, sometimes a felony conviction will lead to a cessation of benefits as well. For more information, see our article on disability benefits, felony convictions, and jail.
What Else Can Cause SSI Benefits to Stop?
The most common reason for someone to lose SSI benefits is having too much income, either through working or receiving it in some other way.
Going Above the Income or Asset Limits
If you are receiving SSI and, for any reason, your income or assets rise above the limit for SSI eligibility, your benefits will stop. In 2014, the individual income limit for SSI is $721 per month, and the asset limit is $2,000. While SSI recipients should be aware of these limits, determining whether you are over the income limit can be a complex issue due to a number of factors.
Increase in income. If you begin receiving an income from any source (for example, a private pension or alimony payments) that puts you over the income limit, your SSI benefits could stop. The SSA differentiates between “earned income” (from working) and “unearned income” (encompassing things like alimony or unemployment benefits.) The SSA counts only certain unearned and earned income; for example, more than half of your earnings from work aren't counted toward the SSI limit. For the details, see our article on what's "countable income."
Free food or shelter. The SSA also considers non-cash food and shelter that is provided by someone else as income (called in-kind income.) If you begin to receive housing or food from someone else for free, the SSA will count a portion of its value as income, which in some cases could reduce your SSI payment or, less commonly, make you completely ineligible for SSI. For more information, see our article on in-kind income.
Spousal income. A portion of a spouse’s income is considered “deemed” to the SSI recipient, meaning it is counted as income when determining their SSI eligibility. This could mean that someone who is granted SSI benefits while unmarried could see those benefits stop if he or she gets married to a spouse who is earning an income. This could also affect someone who is approved for SSI while their spouse is not working (or earning very little) if that spouse later starts working or has an increase in income. For more information, see our article on spousal income deeming.
Parental income. A parent’s income is deemed to a child SSI recipient.
Increase in assets. If you receive resources, and you see an increase in the total amount of your assets that brings you above the established resource limit ($2,000), this could cause your SSI benefits to cease. Again, this is a complex determination, as there are numerous exceptions (such as your home, and in most cases your vehicle). For more information, see our article on how receiving property affects SSI eligibility.
Returning to Work
SSI benefits will stop if the recipient returns to work and engages in SGA. However, trial work periods are not available under the SSI program. SSI does have a Ticket to Work Program and a "Plan for Achieving Self-Support, however. For more information, see our article on SSI's Ticket to Work program.
In some cases, the amount of your SSI will be reduced due to earnings, but your payments will not entirely stop.
Turning the Age of 18
Children who are receiving SSI will have their condition reevaluated according to the adult SSI standards when they turn 18, and depending on the SSA’s finding, this could cause their benefits to stop.
Changes in Living Situation
If you enter or leave an institution such as a nursing home or halfway house, this will affect your eligibility. In addition, if you leave the U.S. for 30 days or more, your SSI benefits will stop.
Due to these numerous complicated provisions, questions regarding changes in SSI eligibility are often best left to an experienced Social Security disability lawyer.