Work Incentives

SSI Work Incentives

If you’re getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI), it’s because your disability prevents you from going to work and earning enough to cover your expenses. However, you may want to give work a chance. It is possible that maybe if you just had a bit of time and knew that you wouldn’t lose your benefits, you could succeed at a job.

That’s why Social Security has made program rules and incentives that can help you do so without having to worry that you’ll lose the benefits you need. You can try out getting a job, earn some money, and even save up some money in the bank without losing your SSI benefits. Here we’ll explain how.

Earned Income Incentives

When SSI figures out how large a benefit to give you, they look at how much money you make. The Earned Income Exclusion means that SSI doesn’t count the first $65 of your earnings in a month. SSI also doesn’t count an additional $20 of general income, which could be earned income or unearned income, including some benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). After that, SSI only counts half of the rest of your earnings.

The bottom line: If you get a job, SSI counts less than half of your earnings when determining your SSI payment amount.


Generally, to qualify for SSI, you must have a disability that prevents you from working. However, after you have been on SSI for a while, you may find that you are able to do some work. If that happens, 1619(a) allows you to keep getting SSI benefits, even when you have earned income above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit.

To qualify, you must:

  • Have been eligible for SSI benefits for at least 1 month before you began working at the SGA level ($1,310 in 2021, $2,190 if you’re blind)
  • Still be disabled
  • Meet all other eligibility rules, including SSI’s resource limits ($2,000 if you’re single, $3,000 for couples)

You are single. You have been getting SSI benefits for 6 months and you just got a new part-time job. Even though you are now working and earning more than the SGA limit, 1619(a) means that you are not disqualified from continuing to get SSI benefits. Social Security applies the SSI formula to figure out your countable income:

Countable Earned Income Example:

Even with 1619(a), when your income goes above a certain level, your SSI benefits will go down to $0. However, you may still qualify for 1619(b), which is an incentive that lets you keep your Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) coverage, even though you no longer get SSI benefits. 1619(b) is discussed in more detail here.

Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) helps students keep more of their SSI checks while they work and are in school. If you are a student under the age of 22, SSI won’t count any of your earnings when figuring out your SSI benefits, unless you make more than $1,930 per month.

There is a maximum exclusion of $7,770 per year in 2021. To read more about the Student Earned Income Exclusion, click here.

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE)

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) are things you pay for yourself that are related to your disability and that you need to work. Social Security doesn’t count earned income that you use to pay for these expenses when they are calculating your income. IRWEs include things like:

  • Medication copays
  • Adaptive equipment
  • Vehicle modifications
  • Personal care attendant costs
  • Special transportation costs

To see a list of deductible and nondeductible IRWEs from Social Security’s Red Book, click here.

Social Security must approve the items that you want counted as IRWEs. You can use this form to request that Social Security approve your IRWEs. If the IRWEs are approved, Social Security will deduct these expenses from your income when they are calculating your SSI benefits or figuring out the SGA level.

Blind Work Expenses (BWEs)

Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) can only be used by persons who get SSI benefits and who are blind. If you are blind, Social Security doesn’t count earned income that you use to pay for expenses when you work. BWEs include things like:

  • Transportation costs to and from work
  • Guide dog expenses
  • Income taxes

Social Security must approve the items that you want counted as BWEs. You can use this form to request that Social Security approve your BWEs. If the BWEs are approved, Social Security will deduct these expenses from your income when they are figuring out your SSI benefits amount or the SGA limit.

Property Essential to Self-Support (PESS)

Property Essential to Self-Support (PESS) is anything that you own and need to support yourself. Social Security does not count these things as resources when figuring out if you are eligible for SSI benefits. Three types of property can be excluded as PESS:

  • Property that you use in a trade or business (for example, your inventory) or personal property you use for work as an employee (for example, tools or equipment)
  • Up to $6,000 of the value of nonbusiness property that you use to produce something that helps with your daily living (for example, land that you use to produce vegetables that you eat)
  • Up to $6,000 of the value of property if the property gives you a return of at least a 6% per year (for example, property you own and rent to someone else)

You must be using the property to support yourself or expect to start using it again within a reasonable period of time, usually 12 months.

Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

A Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) lets you save money for a work-related goal that will help you be more self-sufficient. Usually, your SSI benefits go down when you get income from other sources like a job or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). But with a PASS, Social Security does not count income or resources set aside in the PASS when figuring out your SSI eligibility or benefits amount. That means you can save up money and keep getting your SSI benefits at the same time.

You can use a PASS to:

  • Help pay for the cost of school or training
  • Start a business
  • Pay for equipment, support services, and other expenses related to your goal

To set up a PASS, you must do the following:

  • Be on SSI or become eligible for the SSI program as a result of an approved PASS application. (If you are not eligible for SSI benefits because of the limit on resources, you may be able to move those resources into a PASS and become eligible.)
  • Have a source of income other than SSI (for example, SSDI cash benefits or wages from a job).
  • Have a work goal that eventually will help you earn enough money to lower or get off Social Security disability benefits.
  • Be able to write a plan that shows how saving a certain amount of money will let you reach your work goal. Social Security has staff called PASS Cadre who can help you write your PASS plan.
  • Be under age 65. You may be able to set up a PASS if you are 65 or older, if you were getting SSI cash benefits based on disability or blindness in the month before your 65th birthday.

The PASS plan is about your work goal, what you want to achieve, and what you need to get there. After you write your PASS, you ask Social Security to approve it. Your plan must have a realistic goal that considers your abilities, experience, and educational background.

Once you have an approved PASS plan, you will need to open a separate bank account just for your PASS funds. You cannot put any money you get from SSI into your PASS account. Your SSI benefits should be used for basic expenses like food and housing. You must fund your PASS account with money from other sources, such as income from a job or money from a spouse or parent. You will use the money you have put into your PASS account to pay for approved expenses to reach your goal.

For more information about the PASS program see the DB101 article on PASS.

Continued Payment - Section 301

Section 301 lets you continue to get SSI benefits, even if you no longer meet Social Security’s criteria for a disability, as long as you are participating in an approved Vocational Rehabilitation program that is expected to help you become self-supporting.

Programs and providers that are usually approved for Section 301 include:

To find out if a specific provider or program is approved under Section 301, talk to a Work Incentive Consultant or visit your local Social Security office. You can also call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Expedited Reinstatement (EXR)

Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) allows your SSI benefits to start again, without a new application, if they stopped because of work. EXR can be used by persons who got SSI benefits in the past, but it is not very common because of the 1619(b) rules, which allow you to keep your SSI benefits.

To be eligible for EXR, you must request it within 5 years of the last month that you were last eligible for 1619(b). If you have questions about Expedited Reinstatement, talk to a Work Incentive Consultant.

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