SSI and Work

How much you get in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits each month depends on your countable income. The more countable income you have, the less you get in SSI.

However, SSI has many programs and rules that can help you if you work, so that when your earned income goes up, your overall situation improves:

DB101's SSI and Work videos can also help you understand what you should know about working while you get benefits.

On SSI? Get a quick estimate of how working may affect your income
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Rules That Mean Your SSI Benefits Won’t Go Down as Much as Your Earned Income Goes Up

In general, your SSI benefits go down 50 cents for every dollar your earned income goes up. That means you always end up with more total income when you work. However, some rules mean that your SSI benefits go down even less or not at all.

Some Work Expenses Are Not Countable Income

When you go to work, you have extra expenses. Social Security calls some of these Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) and doesn’t count them when looking at your income. If you are blind, Social Security calls them Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) and doesn’t count them.

Because Social Security doesn’t count the money you spend on IRWEs and BWEs, your total countable income for SSI is lower and your SSI benefits stay higher than they otherwise would.

You need to report your IRWEs or BWEs to Social Security when you report your income, including receipts or cancelled checks for your expenses.

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs)

For Social Security to count something as an IRWE, all of the following have to be true:

  • You bought an item or service that you need to work.
  • You need it because of a disability.
  • You paid for it yourself and nobody reimbursed you for the cost.
  • You paid a reasonable price for it.
  • You were working during the month you paid the expense.
  • You can fully document the expense with receipts or cancelled checks.

IRWEs are approved at the local Social Security office on a case-by-case basis. Try this form for reporting your IRWEs.

Example

Musetta uses a wheelchair and has a tough time getting ready for work by herself, so she has a personal care attendant who comes to her house each weekday morning and helps her get up, get dressed, have breakfast, and get out the door and on her way to work. This help makes it possible for Musetta to get to work and can be counted as an IRWE. That means the money she pays her attendant is not considered countable income and she gets a higher SSI benefits amount each month than she otherwise would.

Countable Earned Income (Non-Blind SSI Recipients):
Estimate Your Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs):
Popup Link

Blind Work Expenses (BWEs)

Blind Work Expenses can be any expense you have that lets you work. Unlike an IRWE, a BWE does not have to be related to your blindness or other medical condition or disability. Examples include:

  • Federal, state, and local income taxes
  • Social Security taxes
  • Visual and sensory aids
  • Translation of materials into Braille
  • Professional association fees
  • Union fees

Try this form for reporting your BWEs.

Countable Earned Income (Blind SSI Recipients):

Unlike IRWEs, BWEs are subtracted after dividing by two, rather than before.

The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) for Students Under 22

The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) lets students on SSI earn up to $1,870 per month without having those wages be part of their countable income. That means they can work and keep getting their SSI benefits. The SEIE has a $7,550 annual cap, so if you earn more than that in a year, your earnings start getting counted by SSI and your benefits go down.

The SEIE can help you if you get SSI and are both:

  • Under 22 years old, and
  • Regularly attending school.
    • This usually means you have to go to school more than:
      • 8 hours per week for college students
      • 12 hours per week for grades 7 – 12
      • 12 – 15 hours per week for job training
    • If there are reasons beyond your control that prevent you from going to school this much, Social Security may make an exception to these rules.
Example

Nick is 20, attends a local college, and earns $1,955 per month from a summer job. He has no other unearned income and no IRWEs.

The SEIE lets him keep $1,870 per month of his earnings. The general exclusion ($20) and earned income exclusion ($65) reduce his remaining countable earned income to zero. So Nick will keep all of his earnings and keep getting $771 per month in SSI benefits too!

However, if Nick’s job lasts more than a few months, he’ll hit the $7,550 annual cap. At that point, his full earnings will be counted — and his SSI benefits will drop to zero.

Your Countable Earned Income (with SEIE):

Tip: The SEIE’s monthly and annual caps could let you get a higher paying job during the summer months and then a part-time job during the school year without going over the annual cap.

For a more detailed idea of how the SEIE can help you, see DB101's School and Work Calculator.

Programs That Let You Earn More, Save More, and Keep Getting SSI

There are several ways to save more than SSI’s $2,000 resource limit ($3,000 for couples) and keep getting SSI.

ABLE Accounts

If your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where you can save up to $100,000 over time and not have it counted by SSI. ABLE accounts mean that if you get a job, you can start saving up some money without losing your benefits. Additionally, the money in an ABLE account gets tax advantages similar to the way retirement accounts work.

However, ABLE accounts have restrictions:

  • They can only be opened through specific programs or institutions.
  • You can only open one ABLE account.
  • You and the other people making contributions on your behalf have a limit on how much you can deposit each year. Combined, you cannot deposit more than $15,000 in 2019.
  • You can only use money in an ABLE account for specific things, such as:
    • Education
    • Housing
    • Transportation
    • Help getting and keeping work
    • Health care
    • Assistive technology, and
    • Other approved expenses.

Learn more about ABLE accounts in DB101's ABLE article.

You can open an account in another state

You can open an account in a different state from the one you live in. That's because some state ABLE programs let people who live in other states open accounts. Compare the ABLE account options in different states and see which one is right for you.

Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program lets people who get SSI benefits earn more money and save up that money in a special account. It can also help people who do not qualify for SSI become eligible.

The money that you save up must be used for a work-related goal. It can help pay for:

  • School or training
  • Starting a business, or
  • Equipment, support services, and other expenses related to your goal.

The PASS program has two basic benefits:

  • You can save up resources without losing your SSI benefits.
  • If you have income, you can put it into the PASS and it won’t be counted as income by SSI, which means your benefits amount won’t go down as much.

To set up a PASS, you must:

  • Get SSI benefits or become eligible for SSI benefits due to an approved PASS application.
  • Have income other than SSI (for example, SSDI benefits or wages from a job) or have resources over $2,000 that you can use to fund your PASS.
  • Have a work goal that will help you earn enough money to lower your SSI benefits or get off SSDI benefits altogether.
  • Be able to write a plan that shows how saving a certain amount of money will let you reach your work goal. You can get help writing your plan from a PASS specialist.
  • Be under age 65. If you are 65 or older, you may be able to set up a PASS if you were getting SSI benefits based on disability or blindness in the month before your 65th birthday.

Learn more about PASS in DB101’s Building Your Assets and Wealth article.

Individual Development Accounts (IDAs)

If you get SSI benefits, Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) can help you earn more and save your earnings in a special account that will be matched with money from the program’s sponsor or financial institution.

The match may be anywhere from one to four times the amount of the deposit you make. For example, if you’re in an IDA program with a 2:1 match and you deposit $50 into your account, the program will add an additional $100 towards your savings goal, so that your total savings for that month will be $150!

Make sure your IDA is funded by the federal government. If it is:

  • The earnings you put into the IDA don’t count as earned income when SSI figures out your benefits
  • The matching money the IDA adds to your contribution doesn’t count as income for SSI, and
  • The money in the IDA doesn’t count against SSI’s resource limit.

To open an IDA:

  • Your annual income must be at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($24,280 per year for individuals)
  • You must have some earned income from a job or your own business
  • You have to take financial literacy classes about things like money, debt reduction, developing a savings plan, credit, and investing; and
  • Depending on the program, you may need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

You also have to choose an approved goal and use the IDA to save money for that goal. Most IDA programs let you save money for:

  • Buying a first home
  • Paying for education or training costs, or
  • Funding a small business.

Learn more about IDAs in DB101’s Building Your Assets and Wealth article.

The Ticket to Work Program: Job Training and Help Finding Work

The Ticket to Work program helps adults with disabilities prepare for, find, and keep work. To qualify, you must:

  • Be 18 – 64 years old
  • Get SSI or SSDI benefits

When you are ready to think about work, you can get started with the Ticket program by contacting an Employment Network (EN). ENs are organizations that can give you the various free employment services that Ticket to Work provides, including:

While you are in the Ticket program, Social Security doesn't do medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) as long as you make timely progress in meeting your employment goals. That means you don’t lose your eligibility for SSI or SSDI for medical reasons.

Learn more about the Ticket to Work program.

Rules That Help if You Stop Getting SSI Benefits Due to Work

While there are many rules that can help you keep getting monthly SSI benefits, if you earn enough, you eventually stop getting those benefits. Even so, there are SSI rules and other programs that keep helping you.

If You Need SSI Again

If you stop getting SSI because your income goes up, but then your income goes down again, you may not have to reapply for SSI benefits.

If it has been less than 12 months since your last SSI payment or if you qualify for SSI 1619(b), you can get your SSI benefits started up again by reporting to your local Social Security office that you are no longer working.

If it has been more than 12 months, you can ask for Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) if:

  • Your SSI benefits amount went to zero because of your income
  • You can’t work at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level because of your disability
  • Your current impairment is the same as the one that originally made you eligible for SSI, and
  • You stopped getting SSI benefits less than five years ago.

If you qualify for EXR, you can get up to six months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security makes sure you still qualify.

Health Coverage Rules

Many people who get SSI worry that if they work, they’ll lose their health coverage. Fortunately, you can usually keep Medicaid coverage even if your SSI benefits amount goes down to zero because of earnings. And, if you can't keep your Medicaid, there will be other coverage options.

Medicaid through SSI’s 1619(b) Rule

If you’re on SSI and Medicaid and your SSI benefits amount goes down to zero because you go back to work, SSI’s 1619(b) rule means you can keep your Medicaid coverage.

To keep your automatic Medicaid coverage under 1619(b), you must:

  • Have been eligible for SSI benefits for at least one month
  • Have been eligible for Medicaid in the month before your SSI benefits went to zero
  • Need Medicaid coverage to keep working
  • Still have resources below the SSI limit of $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple)
  • Have less than $36,048 in gross earnings, and
  • Still meet all other SSI rules.

Learn more about 1619(b) in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article.

Medicaid's Freedom to Work Program

If your income goes over the 1619(b) limit or your resources go over SSI’s limit, you should look into Freedom to Work, which has much higher limits. It offers the same coverage as regular Medicaid, but you have to pay a monthly premium for it if your income is higher than $1,396 (if you are single). The more income you have, the higher your premium.

To qualify for Freedom to Work, you must:

  • Be 16 – 64 years old
  • Live in Michigan
  • Be a U.S. citizen or a qualified immigrant
  • Have a disability that meets Social Security’s medical standards.
  • Have limited income
    • When you apply, you must have countable income at or below $2,529 per month.
      • Freedom to Work counts earned income and unearned income differently. Only about half of your earned income is counted, so you could work and make a lot more than the $2,529 limit and still qualify, depending on your unearned income.
    • After Freedom to Work coverage starts, your unearned income must stay at $2,529 per month or less. Once your coverage starts, it doesn't matter how much you earn, as long as you have some earned income.
    • For eligibility, only your income is counted, not the income of other household members.
  • Have limited countable resources (money in an ABLE account, the house you live in, and one car are not counted):
    • When you apply, you must have less than $7,560 in resources.
    • After Freedom to Work coverage starts, you can have up to $75,000 in resources. Note: After coverage starts, money you put in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), 401(k), or 403(b) while you are working does not count towards the limit.

Learn more about Freedom to Work in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article.

Other Health Coverage Options

If you lose Medicaid coverage, there should be another health coverage you can get, such as employer-sponsored coverage or private individual coverage. And, if you can’t afford the individual coverage, the government may help you pay for it through tax credits.

Learn more about private health coverage in DB101's How Health Benefits Work article.

SSI and Work Videos

Watch this video to understand what to expect with your SSI when you go to work:

Watch this video to learn what happens when a young person who gets SSI benefits starts working: