After a claimant's five year Trial Work Period has ended, the timeline for the Extended Period of Eligibility start.
What is Extended Period of Eligibility?
The extended period of eligibility is a 36 month period following the five year trial work period, during which a claimant can file for 'expedited reinstatement' of SSDI benefits. This means that if a claimant's SSDI benefits had stopped due to any valid reasons (such as earning above SGA, an improved disability condition, etc) they can restart the benefits by filing an application to the SSA to reinstate the previous benefits without having to go for a new SSDI application from scratch.
Benefits of EPE
Although you will not be able to earn above the income threshold $1260 during the EPE, it does allow a claimant to continue to earn below the gross income of $910 (for 2020) for the 36 months period during which their benefits have been reinstated. However, the EPE will only be provided if your disability condition is indeed disabling enough just as it was at the time your SSDI benefits were granted.
Another benefit of EPE is that the SSA will only suspend your benefits for the month that your earnings from work cross above the SGA levels ($1260) during the 36 months period of the EPE. Following this, if your earnings from work fall below the SGA levels your SSDI benefits will be resumed by the SSA automatically.
Rules of the EPE
The SSA will decide that you no longer meet the requirements for disability due to work first time that your gross monthly income exceeds the SGA threshold and will automatically cease your SSDI benefits. However, the SSA will continue to pay benefits for the month that your benefits were ceased and the two months following that month (this is known as the grace period). Also yet, you will no longer receive the SSA benefits if your income stays above the SGA limits following this 3 months grace period. In case your benefits start to fall below the SGA income following the grace period, you can reinstate your SSDI benefits if those months fall within the 36 month's period of your EPE timeframe.
What happens after the 36 month EPE period ends?
If your countable gross income stays below or equal to the SGA work amount for the 37th month after your EPE period, you will be eligible to continue to receive benefits unless and until any of these two things happen: a) your income levels rise above SGA amount for a month after the EPE period OR b) your medical condition becomes better or your disability gets improved with treatment.
It is important to note that for your EPE, the countable gross income is your monthly income minus any disability or impairment related work expensed (IRWE) such as transport with a wheelchair and a driver, special equipment for work, etc. Any subsidies approved by the SSA are also subtracted from your income during the EPE period (however, the subsidies are not subtracted from your income during the trial work period).
In case of self-employment, the formula for calculating your gross income is a bit different than an employer-employed relationship. So, if you're self-employed, a special formula is used to calculate your earnings and the resulting amount is averaged by dividing by 12 months or the number of months you worked (if the months you worked did not add up to a full whole year).
Also, as discussed above, following the 36 month period of your EPE, the 37th month after the period of your EPE, your benefits will no longer be calculated on a month-to-month basis. Instead, if you become disabled again after the EPE period, you will have an additional grace period called 'expedited reinstatement' in which case you will be eligible to restart your benefits during which you don't need to re-apply for SSDI.
Expedited reinstatement is a safety net designed by the SSA for claimants who try to return to work and lose their entitlement to Social Security Disability Benefits. You can file an application for expedited reinstatement in case your gross monthly earnings drop below the SGA amount within the five year period after your benefits ceased due to work activity. (After the end of this five year period, you will no longer be eligible for expedited reinstatement and will have to file a new application for benefits to enter the disability system).
If your SSDI benefits stopped due to work, then claimants are allowed to reinstate them again without filing a new application. The expedited reinstatement will allow a claimant to receive up to six months of temporary cash benefits while the SSA conducts a full medical review to assed whether you still meet the SSDI requirements.
How to get help for SSDI benefits during or after EPE?
If you need help getting your SSDI benefits reinstated or need to file an appeal, you can consult our disability attorneys here.