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You are here: Work & SSI Disability Benefits

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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.

Work & SSI Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has work incentives and safety nets to encourage people with disabilities to work and become more financially independent. These safety nets help beneficiaries try out their ability to work and not worry about losing their monthly cash benefits and/or health coverage.

Earned Income Exclusion

It is true that your SSI cash benefits will be lower if you go to work. However, SSA offers an important work incentive called the Earned Income Exclusion. SSA does not count the first $65 of earned income plus one–half of the amount over $65. Therefore, your SSI benefit will be decreased by about $1 for every $2 you earn over $65.

Note that you will still have your earnings as income. Here is an example:
You get $733 in SSI and decide to go to work a few days a week. You will earn $625 a month.
To decide how much of your earnings to count for your next SSI check, SSA will do some math.

• First, they will subtract $20 from $625. The answer is $605.
• Then they will subtract $65 from $605. The answer is $540.
• Then they will divide $540 by 2. The answer is $270.

Note that SSA is not TAKING earnings from you. This is the way they decide how much of your earnings to count against your SSI cash benefits. The earnings are still “in your pocket.”

So, even though you have earned $625, SSA will only subtract $270 from your $733 SSI check.
In this case, $733 minus $270 is $463.

You will get an SSI check of $463 AND keep your earnings of $625. You will have $1088 at the end of the month “in your pocket.” 

Student Earned Income Exclusion

The Student Earned Income Exclusion is a work incentive that will help students prepare for a career in the future.

If you are a student (regularly attending school) under age 22, SSA may exclude up to $1,750 of gross earnings in a month (but not more than $7,060 in calendar year 2014) in figuring your countable income. 

Impairment-Related Work Expenses

When figuring the amount of money that SSA counts towards your earned income, SSA may decide not to count certain out-of-pocket expenses you pay for certain items and services that relate to your disability and that you need in order to work.

For example, they can deduct the costs of co-pays, medications, counseling services, computers (if you need one due to your disability), car modifications or attendant care services. It does not matter if you also use these items and services for non-work activities.

SSA calls these expenses impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs). However, if you get reimbursed for these expenses, they cannot exclude them from your earned income.
SSA will exclude IRWE from your earned income when they figure your SSI monthly payment amount. This means your SSI benefit could go up.

Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

If you are blind or have a disability, you may set up a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) to set aside income or resources to meet expenses for reaching an employment goal. For example, if you receive SSDI, wages, or other income, you could set aside some of that money to pay expenses for education, vocational training, or starting a business as long as the expenses are related to achieving your work goal and that will reduce or eliminate your SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cash benefits. 

Usually, you cannot use your SSI payment to pay the expenses necessary to reach your occupational goal. This is because you need the SSI to pay ordinary living expenses. The PASS is a work incentive because SSA does not count income or resources set aside under a PASS when figuring the SSI benefit amount. 

A PASS can help you establish or maintain SSI eligibility and may increase your SSI payment amount.
If you are a child living with your parent(s), you may also exclude part of your parents' income and resources.

EXAMPLE:  For example, if you receive $800 per month in SSDI, you have too much income to be eligible for SSI. But if you otherwise qualify for SSI and have a work goal, you could use some of your SSDI to pay for PASS expenses to help you reach your work goal.

Because SSA would not count the portion of your SSDI you are using toward your PASS, this could reduce your countable income enough so you could be eligible for SSI.

In addition, other agencies may not count income that SSA has excluded for a PASS when they determine your eligibility for housing assistance or the Supplemental Nutrition assistance Program (food stamps).