Eric Goes to College

Eric Gets a Summer Job

In September, Eric entered the University of Minnesota as a computer science major. During his freshman year of college, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) helped cover Eric’s expenses. Ever since he turned 18, he’d been getting $628.67 in SSI benefits each month because of his disability and his lack of income and resources. Due to his low income, Eric also got Medical Assistance (MA) health coverage.

Eric’s passion for computers and his hard work paid off. By the end of his first year at the University of Minnesota, he had straight A’s and was offered a summer job at the university’s computer lab for $1,500 per month. It would be Eric’s first real job and he was pretty excited. Eric wanted to take the job immediately, but was worried that getting paid might impact his SSI benefits or MA health coverage.

He had a few days to think over whether he should take the job, so he decided not to make an immediate decision and to talk it over with Connie, an advisor at the university’s disabled student services office who had helped him in the past. “Getting a job might impact your benefits,” she warned. “Send me an email and I’ll put you in contact with a trained benefits expert who can give you better advice.”

Over email, Connie introduced Eric to Kay, a benefits expert. Kay replied and suggested that they talk over the phone. “This stuff is pretty complicated,” she wrote, “but it’s nothing that has to be done in person. Also, by talking on the phone, I can help you make a faster decision about whether to take the job.”

A couple of hours later, Eric called up Kay. He explained that his main concerns were about how taking the job might affect his SSI benefits and his MA coverage, since the job didn’t offer health benefits.

Kay promised they’d go over both benefits and then asked, “Eric, have you ever heard of the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)?”

Eric hadn’t.

Kay explained, “The Student Earned Income Exclusion is a rule that lets young people who are students get jobs without having their SSI benefits go down. Sometimes we just call it SEIE for short. You probably can get your job and keep all your benefits, but let me ask you a couple of questions first. Have you worked at all this year? And how long do you expect your job to last?”

Eric said that he had never had a paying job before and that the computer lab job would last for 2 months, until mid-August. Then he’d be going back to his sophomore year of college full-time.

“I’ve got good news for you, Eric,” Kay said. “The SEIE was created so that students can get some work experience and keep all of their SSI benefits. To get the SEIE, you have to be under the age of 22 and regularly attending school (that means 8 hours in class per week during the school year for you, because you’re in college). If you make more than $2,290 in any one month or more than $9,230 in a year, then your SSI will probably be reduced, even with the SEIE.”

Eric did the math. “I’m 19 and a full-time student. I’ll be making just $1,500 per month for 2 months, for a total of only $3,000 so far this year. If I want to, I can even get a little part-time job when school starts and I’ll still qualify for my SSI benefits.”

Kay then explained that Eric needed to remember to report his new income to Social Security when he got his first paycheck and to remind Social Security that he was in college and was claiming the SEIE. She emphasized, “If you don’t do your paperwork right, they might try to take your benefits away.”

Eric had one last question for Kay. “My summer job doesn’t come with health benefits. I’m actually more afraid of losing MA than losing my SSI benefits, because the job will pay way more than SSI would pay me. Do I have to worry about this?”

Kay reassured Eric, “No, don’t worry about it. You’ll need to let your local county or tribal human services office know that your income has gone up, but that won’t change your eligibility for MA. As a rule, almost anybody who qualifies for SSI also qualifies for MA, so you’ll be just fine.”

Eric thanked Kay, hung up the phone, and then called the university computer lab to let them know he’d accept their job offer.

Eric loved his summer job. He really knew his stuff with computers and at the University of Minnesota, he learned a lot more. He also enjoyed earning money for the first time. He used some of it to buy a new computer, some new clothes for his sophomore year, and a really nice necklace for his girlfriend. He also managed to save $1,000 in a bank account to spend over the course of the year.

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