How Work Impacts Your Benefits

If you have a disability and want to work, you may worry that working will hurt your benefits.

To successfully balance work and benefits, you need to know how your benefits programs count your income and resources, and the rules that help you as you go from living only on benefits to earning your own money.

How Earned Income Impacts Your Benefits

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) figures out your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, they count your income using a special countable income calculation. This calculation counts less than half of your earned income. If you get SSI and start working, the combined amount you get from work and SSI will always be higher than your SSI benefits alone.Learn more about how SSI counts earned income in DB101’s SSI article.

If you get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a Trial Work Period (TWP) lets you try work for up to nine months while still getting your full SSDI benefits, no matter how much you earn. Each month you earn more than the Trial Work Level ($880 in 2019) is called a Trial Work Month, and your full SSDI benefits continue if you still meet all the other requirements. You can have up to nine Trial Work Months within a five-year (60 months) period.

After your Trial Work Period ends, a three-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) lets you work and get SSDI benefits for every month your earnings are at or below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level ($1,220 in 2016; $2,040 if you’re blind). And for the first five years after you stop getting benefits, Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) means that if your earned income drops below the SGA level, you can quickly get back on SSDI benefits without having to completely reapply. Learn more about SSDI’s work rules in DB101’s SSDI article.

If you have a disability and are covered by Medicaid and begin working, you may become eligible for Freedom to Work. Freedom to Work offers the exact same coverage as standard Medicaid, but you may have to pay a monthly premium based on your income level. Once Freedom to Work coverage starts, it doesn’t matter how much earned income you have; you can keep your Medicaid. Learn more about Freedom to Work in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article. Note: You may also need to pay your own Medicare Part B if you’re enrolled in Freedom to Work.

For individual coverage, any earned income you have is counted as part of your household’s total Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). If your income is low enough, you can get subsidies that help pay for private insurance. Learn more in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article.

These benefits programs all have built-in work incentives. This means that some health care and disability benefits may continue after your job starts, or you become eligible for different types of benefits while working.

How Resources Impact Your Benefits

Resources (also called assets) are the things you own, like a car or a house, or stocks, bonds, or the money in your bank accounts.

If you get SSI or SSI-related Medicaid, you have to meet the resource limit for these programs ($2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple). The house you live in or one car you own are not counted as resources . Note: There is no resource limit for SSDI, Medicare, and income-based Medicaid.

Because most people want to be able to save for the future, there are programs that let you build up your resources and wealth to more than the resource limit without losing your benefits.

ABLE accounts, Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) are savings programs that let you put money aside without risking your SSI or Medicaid benefits.

Special Needs Trusts are another way to build up your resources without losing your benefits. And tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), can help you make the most of your income.

For more details, read DB101’s article on Building Your Assets and Wealth.

Safety Nets

Imagine you get a job you love, and do well at it. After a while you get a raise, and then another. This sounds great, but you may still worry about what will happen to your health insurance and disability benefits.

Health Insurance

The good news is that there is now a health coverage option for almost everyone.

If you have a disability and your income gets too high for you to get regular Medicaid, Freedom to Work lets you pay a monthly premium to get Medicaid coverage. Or you might be eligible for employer-sponsored coverage, which your employer or a family member’s employer helps pay for. If you don’t have access to employer-sponsored coverage, you can get individual coverage, which you pay for yourself (and government subsidies may pay for part of the cost).

For details about all the ways to get health insurance coverage, read DB101’s article on How Health Benefits Work.

SSI

If you’re on SSI, your benefits amount only goes down by 50 cents for every dollar you earn. This means each month you work, you will have more money than if you were only getting SSI.

As you succeed in your career and your income continues to go up, your benefits eventually stop. However, you can get back on SSI benefits without having to reapply if you are on the 1619(b) program and your income drops below a certain level. The 1619(b) rule also means you keep getting SSI-related Medicaid.

If you no longer qualify for SSI or 1619(b) and your benefits stop because of the money you earn at work, Expedited Reinstatement may let you quickly get SSI benefits again if your income drops back down.

SSDI

If you get SSDI, the Trial Work Period, the Extended Period of Eligibility, and Expedited Reinstatement are all designed to keep you on SSDI as you try working, and to quickly get you back on SSDI benefits without having to completely reapply.