You can work some hours every week without losing SSI (Supplemental Security Income). While you need to show that you're unable to earn the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount before you're awarded disability benefits, Social Security won't cut off your SSI benefits if you earn over the SGA limit if you start working after you begin receiving disability. In 2023, the SGA limit is $1,470 per month.
But that doesn't mean that you can earn an unlimited amount of income and continue to receive benefits. SSI does have an income limit separate from the SGA limit. Depending on your state, the income limit may not be much higher than the SGA amount. Social Security periodically reviews the earnings of people receiving SSI benefits, a process called redetermination.
After the agency confirms that you still meet the income and resource limits for SSI, Social Security will reduce your SSI benefit by the amount of the income you're earning. Broadly speaking, Social Security reduces the amount of your monthly SSI benefit by about half of the amount of your monthly income.
More specifically, the agency excludes the first $65 of earned income (wages), and $20 of any income, earned or unearned, for a total of $85 per month. After these deductions, Social Security counts half of any remaining earned income towards the income limit.
Social Security won't count any money you spend on impairment-related work expenses as part of your income. Impairment-related work expenses are reasonable costs related to your disability that allow you to work (and that aren't being already reimbursed). For example, if you need to pay somebody to drive you to work because your disability prevents you from taking public transportation, Social Security will subtract that expense from your total income.
One exception is for blind SSI recipients, who don't need to show that their work expenses are related to their blindness. They can deduct work expenses like lunch money and union dues from their income.
Your SSI payments will be reduced any month in which you make more than $85, but you can make about $1,913 per month before your SSI gets reduced to nothing (that's because $1,913 minus $85 divided by 2 is about $914, the SSI income limit).
Social Security has more generous rules about how it counts income for people under age 22 who are regularly attending school. If you are under 22 and are attending school or in a training course, you can exclude up to $2,220 of earned income per month, up to a maximum yearly amount of $8,950 (in 2023).
Social Security has work incentives for people receiving disability benefits who want to get back into the labor market. For people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), this includes the trial work period, a term of nine months where you're able to work above the SGA limit while continuing to receive your full SSDI benefits.
After you've earned above SGA for more than nine months, Social Security will then place you on an "extended period of eligibility" that lasts for 36 months. During this time, the agency will review your eligibility for benefits on a monthly basis. If you make over the SGA limit in any particular month, you won't receive SSDI for that month, but if your earnings dip below the SGA limit in the following month, you can receive that month's SSDI payment.
For more information on the PASS program as well as other Social Security incentives to get SSI recipients with disabilities back to work, see our article on SSI work incentives.
Updated January 30, 2023