How Work Affects Your SSI

Social Security wants you to go back to work if you are able to. In addition to the Ticket to Work Program, there are many other 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 benefits may go down, their total income from SSI and wages will almost always be higher.

When you earn income, only part of the money you earn will be counted when SSI adjusts your monthly cash benefits. 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 benefits.

Even if you earn enough money for your SSI benefits amount to go down to zero, you’re not “out” of the SSI program. Most people can keep their health coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) under an SSI provision called 1619(b), even after their SSI cash benefits go to zero. And you can have your SSI benefits restarted 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 cash benefits 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.

To learn more about IRWEs and BWEs, click here.

Other Support if You Work

Going to School and Getting a Job at the Same Time: The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

If you are a student under 22 years of age 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 benefits to stay higher than it otherwise would.

To learn more about the SEIE, click here or visit the Social Security Administration’s website.

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

Social Security’s Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program is for people with disabilities who want to save money for a work-related goal that will help them achieve self-sufficiency. You must apply and become eligible for, or already be getting, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to qualify for the PASS program.

If you're on SSI, your monthly SSI benefits go down whenever you get income from other sources (like a job or Social Security Disability Insurance). This can make it difficult to save for things like job training or school.

SSI also has strict resource limits ($2,000 for a person, $3,000 for a couple). To keep getting benefits, these limits need to be followed even when you go back to work.

If you are in this situation, PASS could be a good option for you, because a PASS can let you earn more without having your benefits go down and let you save more money than the resources limit usually allows. With a PASS, you can save money to:

  • Start a new job, raise your income in your current job, or start a business of your own
  • Pay for health care or work-related expenses (transportation, for example)
  • Buy a computer or other equipment that will help you succeed in your career

By setting up a PASS, you can keep your full SSI benefits to pay for basic living expenses, like food and rent, while you set aside money from other sources to achieve your work-related goals.

To learn more about PASS, read DB101's PASS article 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, 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.
  • A person can only have one ABLE account.

Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Safety Nets

Health Care

If your monthly SSI cash benefits end because your wages are too high, section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act allows you to earn up to $36,819 and keep your Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) coverage.

Your resources must remain below SSI’s resource limit, which is $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple. If your resources are higher than SSI’s resource limit, you will probably still qualify for health coverage through AHCCCS Freedom to Work. Click here to learn more about AHCCCS Freedom to Work.

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 benefits 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 have made you ineligible for 1619(b) status, you may want to use Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) to get your SSI benefits 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.

When you request Expedited Reinstatement, you can get up to 6 months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security looks at your medical records.

To learn more about SSI and work click here. If you have a work goal or are currently working, a Work Incentive Consultant can answer your questions.