Stephanie O. Joy, Esq.
Extended Period of Eligibility - How Do I Protect My Social Security Disability?
Updated: Feb 27
Note: This article/video is for general information only and is not legal advice to any particular reader or individual. For legal advice, you must specifically retain a lawyer who evaluates your specific situation.
"Congress enacted [a law] providing for a re-entitlement period under Title II to a beneficiary receiving SSD, who completes nine months of trial work (TWP) and continues to have a disabling impairment, to encourage disabled beneficiaries an attempt to work. We refer to this provision as the EPE."
I love that Congress did this, as most SSD recipients I have had the privilege of working with are not bedridden and want to start to do some gainful work, even if they cannot work full time and remain medically disabled from doing so. That said, people don't seem to know about it and then don't seem to work within the rules to be able to successfully use the EPE and not put their benefits at risk. Our Trial Work Period protects us from robust efforts and even self-experimenting with full time work, so that we do not lose our benefits. But AFTER the TWP is when you must be very on top of things. It is, well, complicated. I will do my best here.
So what is this EPE and what do we all need to know about it?
Watch / Listen here if you prefer:
OK, so when you work part time while pursuing or collecting SSD, you may enter what is called your Trial Work Period. It is a protective period. You enter it if, and when, you work 1 month where you earn more than the TWP amount, currently $1050 in 2023. (If you are self-employed, it is if you work over 80 hours in a month, no matter what you earn.) That will be month 1 of 9 possible TWP months in a 5 year scrolling time period. Those months do not have to be consecutive, to count as one of your 9 months. See more here on TWP.
You leave your TWP once you experience 9 such months of earning over the TWP amount. You now start your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). It does not protect your and your work like your TWP period but it still has come special rules to help you. The first 36 months of this EPE is the Re-entitlement Period. As a general rule, "The 36-month re-entitlement period of the EPE applies to beneficiaries beginning the month immediately following the completion of the nine month trial work period (TWP)." It starts even if you are not working at all. https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0413010210. Important Note: If you work your TWP 9 months, and immediately stop after the 9th, you STILL enter your EPE. "The EPE begins the month after the TWP ends (whether the beneficiary is working or not)."
Important ALERT: "When a beneficiary works after completing the TWP, [the SSA will] determine if the work activity shows an ability to engage in SGA. If it does, the disability has ceased, if it does not, determine that the disability continues." https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0413010060
PRACTICE TIP: So this means that your activity, working and otherwise, after your TWP, while in your EPE, may be under scrutiny and care should be taken that it not evidence you are no longer disabled. Your medical treatment should be continuing robustly enough to ensure it is illustrative of lack of notable improvement.
"The first 36 months after the TWP is the Re-entitlement Period within a claimant's Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) . [Again, T]he re-entitlement period begins the month immediately following completion of the TWP, and ends the last day of the 36th month following completion of the TWP."
During that period, the 36 month period, a claimant will not be due his SSD monthly benefit for any month he earns SGA. SGA is Substantial Gainful Activity. In 2023 that amount is $1470/month. However, he can become "re-entitled" by stopping SGA level work. Ergo the specific name of "Re-Entitlement Period". Warning! Note that often the SSA doesn't learn the info to know a claimant earned over SGA until many months or even years later (even if claimant advised), so it is critical for each claimant to track his own monthly figures, so as to be prepared to not spend that which he will have to pay back, less he be stressed with an Overpayment later.
PRACTICE TIP: Track your earnings, not just in your TWP but in your ERE so you know if you are not due the benefits you received that month. It is all or nothing each month. You will be due all, full benefit, or none, zero.
NOTE: The EPE may last indefinitely beyond the Re-entitlement Period (i.e. more than 36 months) if a beneficiary with a disabling impairment never engages in SGA. In such case, the EPE continues until the beneficiary either engages in SGA or the SSA finds that the beneficiary is no longer disabled. He continiues to collect as long as his EPE continues indefinitely. Warning: the SSA can find a claimant is no longer medically disabled during that EPE, unlike the general rule during the TWP. If that happens, the benefits will stop during the EPE going forward, even if the claimant is no longer working. A Disability Cessation situation. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-20/chapter-III/part-404/subpart-P/subject-group-ECFR47cbdc321ec526a
OK, so if a claimant DOES work SGA once he enters his EPE his benefits will stop, he is not due the benefits for each month over SGA. If the SSA finds he is no longer disabled, it is worse: He will be given a grace period: SSA will "[p]ay monthly benefits from the start of the EPE through the second month following the month of disability cessation." See more on Disability Cessation.
Repeat: If the claimant never works SGA during his EPE, he will continue to be paid (short of medical improvement). This is the safest course! If he does engage in a month or more of SGA, he will not be due benefits for those specific months. However, if he then reduces to under SGA while still in his 3 year re-entitlement period, he can be paid for those months. If he is reviewed and SSA decides his disability has stopped (Disability Cessation) during his EPE, game over after a little grace period of pay. After his EPE, which may be 3 years or may be longer if he never works SGA after leaving his TWP, one month of SGA and game is over.
NOTE: If the beneficiary is not engaging in SGA when the re-entitlement period ends, benefits continue until the beneficiary engages in SGA again, if ever (or medical cessation is determined). This is critical. A claimant may play SSD ping pong during his EPE re-entitlement period, (barring losing out because he is found no longer disabled) but can save his benefits' future by never earning so again once he is out of his re-entitlement period within his EPE. "When a beneficiary returns to SGA after the 36 month re-entitlement period, eligibility for Title II payments ends."
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