How Work Affects Your SSI

Social Security wants you to go back to work if you are able to. There are programs and special features in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) law that can help. Any program or feature that makes it easier to go to work is called a work incentive.

Most people on SSI who go to work end up better off financially. Even though their SSI benefit may go down, their total income from SSI and wages will almost always be higher.

If you get SSI and you start to work, it will most likely affect your monthly cash benefit amount within the first few months.

When you earn income, only part of the money you earn will be counted when SSI adjusts your monthly cash benefit. The SSI program does not count the first $65 you earn each month, and they only count about one-half of the rest. This means that a little less than half of your earnings will be counted when Social Security figures out your SSI payment.

Even if you earn enough money and your SSI benefit amount goes to zero, you’re not “out” of the SSI program. Most people can keep their Medical Assistance (MA) coverage even after their SSI benefit goes to zero. And you can have your SSI benefit restarted easily if your earnings suddenly drop for any reason.

Work Expenses

Social Security knows that you may have extra expenses when you go to work. Some of your work expenses can be counted as Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). If you are blind, there are additional expenses called Blind Work Expenses (BWEs). IRWEs and BWEs are used in figuring out your countable earned income. Both can help keep your SSI benefit higher when you are working.

When you report your income, you need to tell Social Security about any work-related expenses so they can decide if the expense is an IRWE or a BWE. If Social Security decides your expense is an IRWE or a BWE, you will need to send them copies of your receipts showing the amount of the expense.

Read more about IRWEs and BWEs on DB101.

Other Support if You Work

Working Students: The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

If you are a student who works, SSI makes it easy to keep more of the money you earn. The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) allows students to earn up to $1,870 per month, up to a maximum of $7,550 per year, without having those wages count as part of your countable income. This causes your SSI benefit to stay higher than it otherwise would.

Social Security has more detailed information on the SEIE.

Saving for an Employment Goal: Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

SSI has strict resource limits ($2,000 for an individual, $3,000 for a couple). These limits need to be followed even when you go back to work.

If you need to save money to pay for college classes, or for some other employment-related goal, you’ll run into the SSI resource limit pretty quickly. The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program can help you save for your future without running into trouble with SSI’s resource limits. By setting up a PASS, you can keep your full SSI benefit to pay for basic living expenses like food and rent while you set aside money from other sources to pay for school or other work-related goals.

To learn more about PASS, read DB101's PASS section or contact a PASS Cadre.

Saving for the Future: ABLE Accounts

If your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where over time you can save up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI. ABLE accounts mean that if you have a job (or even if you don't), you can save some money without losing your benefits. Additionally, the money in an ABLE account gets tax advantages similar to the way retirement accounts work.

However, you can only open one ABLE account; there is a limit on how much can be deposited in the account each year ($15,000 in 2019); and money in an ABLE account can only be spent on qualifed disability expenses, like education, housing, or transportation.

To learn more about ABLE accounts, read DB101's ABLE Accounts article.

Helping You Get a Job: The Ticket to Work Program

Sometimes all you need to go to work is some career counseling, or job training, or help writing a resume or business plan. Social Security’s Ticket to Work program was designed to give this kind of support. Under the program, most SSI recipients get a “ticket” or voucher in the mail that they can trade in for different kinds of employment services. Click here for a listing of the organizations in your area that give these kinds of services.

Another advantage of the Ticket to Work program is that Social Security will not conduct a medical review of your disability while you’re taking part in it.

To learn more, read this DB101 article or Chat with a Hub expert.

Safety Nets

If your monthly SSI benefit ends because your wages are too high, section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act allows you to earn up to $53,154 and keep your Medical Assistance (MA) coverage. Your assets must stay below $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple.

If you are eligible for 1619(b) and you stop working or your earnings drop to a point where you qualify for an SSI cash payment again, you will be able to get your SSI benefit restarted quickly without having to file a new application or wait for a medical review.

Expedited Reinstatement (EXR)

If you need to stop working and your earnings or savings have made you ineligible for 1619(b) status, you may want to use Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) to get your SSI benefit started again. Expedited reinstatement is available to SSDI or SSI beneficiaries who:

  • Stopped getting benefits because of earnings from work
  • Are unable to work or perform Substantial Gainful Activity
  • Are disabled because of an impairment(s) that is the same as or related to the impairment(s) that allowed them to get benefits earlier, and
  • Request benefits be restarted within 5 years of the month their benefits ended

If you get EXR, you can get up to six months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security looks at your medical records.

Learn more about SSI and work or Chat with a Hub expert.