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You are here: FAQs: SSA work incentives

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How much can I work when I receive Social Security disability benefits?

Will I lose my health coverage if I go to work?

What if I go to work and then my disability gets worse?

Consumers, families, advocates and professionals:

Do you have questions about Social Security’s work incentives and safety nets?

We open our toll-free telephone line on Mondays from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. and on Thursdays from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. to anyone. Call 1-855-384-2844.

You will speak with Shannon Smiles, a Certified Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC).

This is a free, confidential service to help you make informed choices about going to work.

Frequently asked questions about Social Security's work incentives

1. Will I lose my cash benefits if I go to work?

Not necessarily. However, we do believe that, if possible, some individuals are much better off if they are living on earnings instead of disability benefits.

SSA offers work incentives to help you get used to working. If you decide to move from public benefits to employment, you can talk with a Certified Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) who will look at your particular circumstances and help you use SSA's work incentives and safety nets. Then you can make the best decision for your circumstances and preferences. 

If you go to work and then your disability worsens or you decide you are no longer able to work, Social Security has several built-in protections that can help you receive benefits again without the need to re-apply.

2. What is a Certified Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC)?

Certified Work Incentive Coordinators (CWICs) are individuals who have obtained extensive training about Social Security's regulations about working. There are several ways to find a CWIC in Maryland:

If your Ticket to Work is assigned to the MMHEN, you will have access to ongoing benefits counseling as you return to work. This is especially important when there are changes in your earnings, such as if you get a raise or promotion, or if your earnings amount vary from month to month.       

3. How much can I earn and still keep my benefits?

This is often the first question people ask. Part of the answer depends on whether you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security has set up different work incentives and safety net for each of these programs.

If you are receiving both SSI and SSDI, you will be able to use both sets of incentives. A CWIC can talk with you about your own benefits and work goals to help you understand more.

4. Can I use more than one SSI work incentive at a time?

Yes. For example, you may use a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) for expenses to reach a work goal and Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) for continuing, work-related expenses incurred due to your disability. If you are a student under age 22, you may use the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) at the same time you use a PASS or IRWEs.

5. Can I use a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) if I don't already receive SSI?

In some cases, yes. If you receive too much unearned income (such as SSDI) to ordinarily qualify for SSI, you may use a PASS to reduce your “countable” unearned income low enough for you to meet the SSI income limits.

A PASS helps you qualify for SSI in this situation. By qualifying for SSI, you are also automatically eligible for Medical Assistance (Medicaid). A PASS may also be used to exclude countable resources by designating them for PASS expenses. This can also help you qualify for SSI. 

6. If I lose my SSI payment, will I lose my Medical Assistance (Medicaid)?

Not necessarily. If your SSI payment is reduced to $0 by your earnings, the 1619(b) rule may  enable you to keep Medical Assistance as long as:

7. If I receive both SSI and SSDI, can I use SSI and SSDI work incentives at the same time?

Yes. In fact, if any of your work-related expenses qualify as IRWEs (needed for work, incurred due to disability, paid for by individual and not reimbursed, of reasonable cost), you may use the same expense to both reduce your countable earnings (to keep more SSI) and to keep earnings below SGA (to keep SSDI).     

8. If I do Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) during my Trial Work Period (TWP), will I lose my SSDI?

No. During your TWP, you keep SSDI no matter how high your earnings – as long as Social Security does not determine you have “medically improved”. 

9. How does the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) help me?

During the 36-month EPE, you may receive your SSDI payment any time your earnings fall below SGA without reapplying. This is especially helpful for people who need more than the nine-month Trial Work Period (TWP) to be sure they can succeed in a job.

EXAMPLE:  An SSDI beneficiary who has not worked since s/he became eligible for SSDI starts a job earning above SGA. The first nine months would be his/her Trial Work Period, and s/he would keep SSDI payments.

The next three months would be his/her Grace Period, and s/he would still keep SSDI payments. The next 33 months would be the remainder of his/her EPE, and s/he would not receive SSDI. However, if his/ her earnings fell below SGA any month during (or the month after) the EPE, s/he would get SSDI back without reapplying.

In short, the worker would have 45 months (the 9-month TWP plus the 36-month EPE) to “prove” himself/herself on a job before risking the permanent loss of SSDI.