Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

Once you’ve used up all 9 Trial Work months during a 5-year window, your Trial Work Period is over and your 3-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins.

During your EPE, you will continue to get SSDI benefits as long as your gross monthly earnings don’t go above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit ($1,220 per month in 2019, $2,040 if you’re blind).

Once your earnings reach the SGA level in one month, a 3-month Grace Period begins. During that time, you will continue getting SSDI cash benefits regardless of your wages. After your Grace Period ends, however, your SSDI benefits will be zero in any month that you earn above the SGA limit. If your income drops below the SGA limit again, you can call Social Security and get your benefits reinstated. Until your EPE ends, you will continue to be able to get your SSDI benefits for any month during which you earn less than the SGA limit.

At the end of the 3-year EPE, if you are earning less than the SGA limit, you will continue to get your SSDI cash benefits. If you earn more than SGA, your SSDI cash benefits will end. If you earn more than the SGA limit one month and your income drops below the SGA limit the next month, you will no longer automatically be able to get reinstated and get SSDI benefits – you will have to request benefits through Expedited Reinstatement, which is described below.

Example

Tony’s EPE begins in March. He earns $600 per month in March, April, and May. Because $600 is less than the SGA limit, Tony gets SSDI benefits in each of these months.

In June, however, Tony earns $1,200. Because $1,200 is more than the SGA limit ($1,220), his June earnings cause his Grace Period to begin. Tony gets SSDI benefits in June and in the following 2 months because he’s in his 3-month Grace Period.

In September, Tony earns $1,200. Because he’s now used up his Grace Period and his earnings are above the SGA limit, Tony doesn’t get SSDI benefits that month. In October, his earnings dip below the SGA limit again. He contacts Social Security and requests that his benefits be reinstated. They reinstate his benefits and send him a check. In November, he earns more than the SGA limit and doesn’t get benefits.

This pattern will continue for the rest of Tony’s EPE. Every month he earns less than the SGA limit, he asks for reinstatement and gets SSDI benefits. Every month he earns more than the SGA limit, he doesn’t.

Note: Tony needs to make sure he reports any changes in his work and income to Social Security to avoid overpayments. This is very important. More detail on overpayments is given later in this article.

Deductions

During your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), there are some ways to lower your gross monthly earnings so that Social Security won’t count everything you make. These are called deductions. Here we’ll talk about the most common deductions that can help you lower your gross monthly earnings below the SGA limit, so that you can work and keep getting your SSDI benefits.

Note that you can also use these deductions when you apply for benefits and during the period of Expedited Reinstatement, but you cannot use these deductions during the Trial Work Period.

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs)

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) are costs related to your disability that you have to pay to do your job. IRWEs must be expenses that you pay for, not your health insurance or anyone else. Keep your receipts for all expenses you think are IRWEs. You need to include them with your pay stub or other earnings information when you report your earnings to Social Security.

Examples of IRWEs include money you spend on:

  • Personal Care Assistance (PCA) services that you use on the job
  • special equipment related to your disability that you purchase for your job
  • copayments for additional prescription drugs that you need because you are working

Subsidized Earnings

An employer may pay workers with serious medical conditions more in wages than their work is actually worth. When this occurs, the excess pay is regarded as a subsidy rather than earnings.

SSDI Countable Earnings with IRWEs and Wage Subsidy (during EPE):
Example

Jamie's gross earnings for the month are $1,210. She spends $50 each month on Personal Care Assistance at her job, which counts as an IRWE. She also gets a $200 wage subsidy from her employer, who is paying her as much as he paid her before she acquired her disability, even though she doesn’t get as much work done as she used to.

Social Security would calculate her monthly earnings like this:

SSDI Countable Earnings with IRWEs and Wage Subsidy:

Because her countable gross monthly earnings are less than the SGA limit ($1,220), Jamie would get SSDI benefits for the month.

Your SSDI Countable Earnings: