SSI Work Incentive Programs

SSI has financial incentives and protections to encourage people with disabilities to try to go back to work.

By , Contributing Author
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If you're receiving SSI disability benefits and think you may be able to try working again, SSI has numerous incentives and rules to help SSI recipients to try to work again. (SSI is the disability program for low-income people; the Social Security disability insurance program has its own trial work rules.)

Financial Incentives to Work While on SSI

To encourage SSI recipients to work if they can, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has some incentives regarding how much income from work will be counted against a person's SSI benefits. (Learn more about the SSI income limits and countable income.)

Treatment of Work Income

If you're doing some part-time work while receiving benefits, the SSA will ignore some of your income. Over half of the income you earn while working doesn't count toward the income limit for SSI when determining eligibility. Social Security disregards the first $65 of earned income (wages from work) that you make (or $85 if you have no unearned income), and then half of the rest of your income. But your SSI benefit will be reduced somewhat if you are earning money from working; your SSI benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 of gross earned income.

Impairment-Related Work Expenses

You can subtract certain disability-related expenses from your gross income from work, reducing the amount by which your SSI check will be cut. These expenses can include:

  • amounts paid for assistive or adaptive devices needed for work
  • the cost of paratransit or taxi transportation to work
  • the cost of adaptive automotive controls or devices, and
  • medical expenses related to an impairment (but routine medical and dental expenses that you would have if you weren't disabled can't be subtracted from your income).

Social Security's "Red Book" provides a comprehensive list of qualifying impairment-related work expenses (but the SSA determines whether expenses are eligible for impairment-related work expense treatment on a case-by-case basis).

Blind Work Expenses

Similarly, certain work expenses may be deducted by blind SSI recipients from gross income from work. The list of deductible blind work expenses is broader than deductible impairment-related work expenses and includes:

  • withheld taxes
  • all meals consumed during work hours
  • licenses, fees, and union dues related to work or a profession
  • adaptive devices for blind people, and
  • all costs of purchasing and maintaining a guide dog.

A comprehensive list of qualifying blind work expenses can be found in Social Security's Red Book as well.

Property Essential to Self-Support

Inventory and tools used by employees for work are not counted as resources against the SSI resource (asset) limit.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

Certain students can claim the student earned income exclusion, which makes the SSA ignore part of their income from work. You can qualify for this exclusion if you're under age 22 and are regularly attending school as follows:

  • in grades 7-12 for at least 12 hours per week
  • in college or university for at least 8 hours per week, or
  • in a training course to prepare for employment for at least 12 hours per week, or 15 hours per week if the course includes shop practice.

Individuals who are home-schooled because of their disability are also entitled to the exclusion.

In 2022, students eligible for this exclusion can exclude up to $2,040 of earned income per month, up to a maximum yearly amount of $8,230.

Unincurred Business Expenses

Unincurred business expenses are business expenses paid by a third party, such as a state department of vocational rehabilitation, that would be treated as business expenses if they were to be paid by the self-employed SSI recipient. These expenses are deducted from gross income in determining net earnings from self-employment in the same manner as if the self-employed person had incurred the business expense.

Example: The State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation provides Walter, a blind SSI recipient, with a rent-free kiosk in the state capitol building from which Walter operates a shop selling snacks, magazines, and sundries. The kiosk has a rental value of $500 per month. Walter can subtract the $500 per month from his gross income in the same manner as if he had paid the rent each month.

Continuing Medicaid After SSI Stops Due to Income

If your income from work reaches the point that it fully "offsets" (erases) your SSI benefits (meaning your SSI disability benefits will stop), you will remain entitled to Medicaid benefits until your gross income from work reaches a "threshold" amount. The threshold amount varies from state to state (reflecting cost-of-living differences in the various states) and is adjusted annually for inflation. Social Security's continued Medicaid eligibility page has the Medicaid threshold amounts by state. In addition, states have the option of offering Medicaid to individuals whose income exceeds the threshold amount.

Updated February 25, 2022

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