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What is the expedited reinstatement provision for disability benefits?

Expedited reinstatement (EXR) is a Social Security provision designed to provide a financial safety net for people who go off disability benefits because they’ve returned to work. With EXR, former beneficiaries may be able to quickly restart disability payments if their medical condition forces them to stop or severely curtail work activity again.

EXR is one of a number of work incentives Social Security offers to help those on disability enter or return to the labor force. Unlike many of those programs, it is available to recipients of both Social Security–administered benefits for people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

You can ask for EXR if, within five years of your benefits ending, your work income drops below caps Social Security sets for active beneficiaries. If the request is granted, you won’t have to file a new benefit application, and you may be able to receive payments again immediately.

Who can get EXR?

Because Social Security largely defines disability as a medical condition that prevents you from working, it sets strict limits on how much you can earn from a job or self-employment and still collect disability benefits.

To receive SSDI, your work income cannot exceed a level Social Security considers “substantial gainful activity,” or SGA. For 2022, the cap is $1,350 per month, or $2,260 per month if you are statutorily blind.

SSI has more complicated income rules, involving numerous exceptions and taking into account money from nonwork sources such as investment returns or government benefits. The bottom line in 2022 is that you will lose SSI if your earnings from work exceed $1,767 a month. (There may be different limits if you have both work and nonwork income.)

To be eligible for expedited reinstatement, you must meet all these criteria:

  • You lost your SSDI or SSI within the previous five years because your earnings exceeded the relevant program’s cap.
  • You are again unable to do work sufficient to exceed the SGA limit, due to a condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability.
  • The disability preventing you from working is the same one for which you were initially awarded benefits or is a closely related condition.

How to reinstate disability benefits

To request expedited reinstatement, you must fill out a package of forms that vary depending on your circumstances. Forms SSA-371 and SSA-372 are applications to reinstate SSDI and SSI benefits, respectively. You may also need to submit paperwork detailing your work history and medical condition, among other documentation.

Contact Social Security to find out which forms are applicable for you. The agency can mail them to you or help you fill them out electronically.

After you request EXR, you may receive up to six months of provisional, or temporary, benefits while Social Security determines whether you qualify for reinstatement. These could begin as soon as the month after you sought EXR, and they usually don’t have to be paid back, even if your request for EXR is ultimately denied.

Provisional benefits can end in less than six months if Social Security makes a decision on your EXR request, your earnings exceed the SGA limit or you reach full retirement age.

How expedited reinstatement works

If your request is approved, you’ll enter what’s called the initial reinstatement period (IRP). During that time, you can receive up to 24 months of disability payments for months in which your earnings fall below the income limits. The months do not have to be consecutive, meaning your income can be above the limit in some months and below it in others.

Once you’ve received 24 months of disability payments, the IRP ends. At that point, if you are still entitled to SSDI benefits, you qualify for a new trial work period — an opportunity to try to work at the SGA level consistently without losing your benefits. During the trial work period, you can earn above the SGA limit for up to nine months over a five-year period without losing your benefits. (Trial work is an SSDI-only incentive; it is not available to people getting SSI.) 

The end of an IRP also resets the EXR clock: If your benefits once again end because of your work earnings, you get a new five-year period of eligibility for extended reinstatement.

Keep in mind

  • You can get EXR only if your prior entitlement to benefits ended because you were working. It is not available if benefits end because your medical condition improves to the point that Social Security no longer considers you disabled.
  • The payment amount for a reinstated benefit could differ from what you’d get if you successfully filed a new disability claim, depending on your income during the period when you weren’t getting benefits. Contact Social Security to talk to a claims specialist about what you could receive in each scenario.
  • If you are denied EXR, you have 60 days to file an appeal and have the request reconsidered. You cannot appeal a denial of provisional benefits.

Published December 15, 2021