You can work some hours every week without losing SSI (Supplemental Security Income). Social Security won't cut off your SSI benefits if you earn over the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit (assuming you start working after you receive SSI disability benefits). But Social Security will not approve an initial application for SSI benefits if you're earning over the SGA limit (unless the disability is blindness). The SGA limit is $1,350 in 2022.
That doesn't mean you can earn an unlimited amount of income. 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. Also, you must continue to be disabled despite being able to work some; the Social Security Administration (SSA) will regularly check to see if you are able to work full time.
Social Security will adjust your SSI benefit by the amount of the income you're earning (after the agency confirms that still meet the income and resource limits for SSI). The general rule is that Social Security will reduce the amount of your monthly SSI benefit by about half of the amount of your monthly income. But Social Security has specific rules about how it counts earned income (wages), and those rules will affect how much SSI you get while you work.
Social Security doesn't count the first $65 of earned income every month, and it only counts half of the earned income you earn over $65 per month. In addition, Social Security disregards $20 of any income, earned or unearned, per month (for a total of $85).
For example, if you receive the maximum 2022 federal benefit amount of $841 (we'll assume you don't get a state supplement), and you then begin to earn $200 at a job every month, your countable income would be $57.50. (Social Security disregards the first $20 of any kind of income and the first $65 of earned income, and only counts 50% of the remainder, so $200 minus $85 divided by 2 equals $57.50.) You would receive only $783.50 in SSI.
In essence, your SSI payment will be reduced any month in which you make more than $85, but you can generally make about $1,770 per month before your SSI gets reduced to nothing ($1,770 minus $85 divided by 2 is about $841, 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 $2,040 of earned income per month, up to a maximum yearly amount of $8,230 (in 2022).
Social Security will ignore some of your income if you have to spend some money on work expenses related to your disability that aren't reimbursed by anyone else. Social Security calls these "impairment-related work expenses." For instance, an impairment-related work expense would be the cost of what you have to pay someone to drive you to work because your disability prevents you from taking public transportation.
The amount of income that will be ignored is equal to the amount that you pay for the work-related expenses. To learn more, read our article on impairment-related work expenses.
Blind recipients don't need to show that their work expenses are related to their blindness (these expenses are called blind work expenses, or BWE). For instance, they can deduct work expenses like lunch money and union dues from their income.
If you want to avoid having your SSI reduced, you should consider asking Social Security to let you participate in the Plan to Achieve Self-Support ("PASS") Program. Under this program, Social Security does not count money that you put towards an employment goal if the goal would eventually let you support yourself without SSI.
To use the example above, say you are earning $200 per month as a dishwasher, but you are using that money to pay for cooking school. If you complete an application for a PASS from Social Security, you can still get the whole $841 per month from SSI. You need to apply for a PASS using Form SSA-545-BK, and Social Security needs to approve it.
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 March 11, 2022