Cindy Speaker: Good afternoon, welcome to our broadcast today. My name is Cindy Speaker. I have with me as my guest attorney Brooke Thomas, of Gardberg & Kemmerly. Brooke, thanks for being with us today.

Brooke Thomas:  Thanks for having me, Cindy.

Cindy Speaker:  Well Brooke, we’re goin to talk about Social Security disability and working, because apparently in your line of business you deal with clients that are collecting Social Security disability, but they may, to some degree, be working as well, is that correct?

Brooke Thomas: That’s correct. Where it comes up the most for us in our practice is that when folks apply for disability benefits, most people are denied at the initial level, we file an appeal and unfortunately in our region it usually takes about a year and a half to get a hearing.

Cindy Speaker: Right.

Brooke Thomas:  And a lot of times people will have questions, you know, “Hey, can I work? I’m waiting an awful long time for a hearing with no income.”

Cindy Speaker:  Right, exactly. I mean, they have to do something, so-

Brooke Thomas: Right.

Cindy Speaker: So are they penalized for that?

Brooke Thomas: You’re not penalized for working alone. Now, there are a lot of rules surrounding working. If you’re waiting for your hearing, you don’t want to perform what Social Security defines as substantial gainful activity. And that amount actually changes year to year, just like cost of living adjustments, etc. They will change, for this year it’s about $1,180.00 gross. And so that’s what-

Cindy Speaker:  Can you just clarify for a second, so when you say that amount of money, is that the amount of money that they can make? And is that-

Brooke Thomas:  They can make up to that per month-

Cindy Speaker: Per month.

Brooke Thomas: Before taxes are taken out, that’s a gross amount.

Cindy Speaker: Okay.

Brooke Thomas: And that’s what Social Security basically defines, says, “Hey, if you can earn more than that, you’re not disabled,” basically. Now-

Cindy Speaker: Okay, give me that number again.

Brooke Thomas: It’s $1,180.00, I believe, for 2018.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. Very good. Now what if the condition of the person improves and they’re able to return to work full time while waiting for a hearing? Is that a problem, or how is that handled?

Brooke Thomas: Well it depends on how long they’re out of work. Social Security defines a disability as basically an impairment or combination of impairments that prevent you from working for at least 12 calender months, consecutive months. And some folks will have a traumatic accident or some sort of event, then they recover from that and are able to go back to work, and hey, you’re always going to be able to earn more money working than you would draw from disability.

Cindy Speaker:  Right.

Brooke Thomas: And so if that person goes back to work before the 12 months is up, it may kind of shoot their claim down. But if that person is out of work for at least 12 consecutive months, we can go in and ask for what they call a closed period, which is where you’re asking Social Security to pay you for the 12 plus months that you were off work. You may not get any ongoing monthly benefits, but you’d get a lump sum payment, potentially, for that time-

Cindy Speaker: Okay.

Brooke Thomas: That you’re off work.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. Now once the … let’s suppose the person does start receiving Social Security disability. Can they work in any capacity at that point?

Brooke Thomas: They can. Again, that magic number is that substantial gainful activity amount. But you have to be really careful. Social Security, they don’t want to penalize you for trying to go back to work, they would love it if disabled workers were able to get back into the workforce.

Cindy Speaker: Right.

Brooke Thomas:  And so, what they’ll do sometimes is allow you to do something called a trial work period, where you go back to work, you try to do it, you can work for up to nine months. They’ll continue to pay you your benefits while you’re trying to work. If you’re able to continue to do it, you can transition off of benefits, but if you have to quit working, then you haven’t lost your benefits just because you tried to go back to work. And that’s a little bit of a simplified version of how they calculate that and address that, but if you have any questions about working I would definitely suggest contacting Social Security, letting them you’re going back to work, and potentially contacting an attorney, or the attorney who’s handling your case.

Cindy Speaker: Right.

Brooke Thomas: Because it’s a complicated matter and you definitely want to protect your benefits-

Cindy Speaker: Yeah.

Brooke Thomas: The best you can.

Cindy Speaker: Yeah. Brooke, tell me how can an attorney in these types of situations?

Brooke Thomas: It’s very helpful to have an attorney who knows the ins and outs of the regulations, and about how much money you can earn. It’s also really important to document these things. So technically, if you’re going back to work you’re earning a little bit under what they allow, but there are some nuances to that. One, you’ve got to have all your check stubs, you’ve got to have all that paperwork together.

Cindy Speaker: Oh, wow. Yeah.

Brooke Thomas:  You want to be able to present, if you’re waiting for a hearing and you’re working part time, for example, you’re going to have to present that judge that you for your hearing, you’re going to have to present them all that information in writing. An attorney can really help you piece through that, gather the information, make sure you’re not working too many hours, or making too much money. Because it is, like I said, a very nuanced area.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay. Very good. Brooke, if someone wants to reach out to you, I know your website is gardberglaw.com, we’ll put that up on the screen. What is the best phone number to reach you on?

Brooke Thomas:  The best number for us is area code 251, it’s 343-1111.

Cindy Speaker:  Very good. Well Brooke, thanks a lot for your time today.

Brooke Thomas: Yeah, thanks for having me, Cindy.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay. To those of you watching, either live or by replay, if you have questions or comments you can leave them right on this page, we’ll make sure we get your questions answered. Thanks everybody, and have a great day.