If you're receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits and think you are ready to try working again, SSI has numerous incentives and guidelines to help SSI recipients return to work. SSI is the disability program for low-income people; the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) has its own trial work rules.
To encourage SSI recipients to try to return to work, 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.)
Anyone ages 18 through 64 who is approved to receive SSI (or SSDI) due to a disability can apply for the SSA Ticket to Work Program. This program is a free employment services program that connects disabled individuals interested in working with career counselors, job placement opportunities, and job training.
If you're interested in this program, you must apply through an Employment Network (EN) or a State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency. The EN/State VR agency will coordinate and provide the needed services to help you find and maintain employment.
The SSA will ignore some of your income if you're working part-time while receiving benefits. Over half of the income you earn while working is not counted toward the income limit for SSI when determining eligibility. This is called the "earned income exclusion."
Social Security disregards the first $65 of wages from work that you make (or $85 if you have no unearned income) and then half of the rest of your income. After the earned income exclusion is applied, your SSI benefit will be somewhat reduced. Because of the way the calculation is made, your countable income (the amount that will be taken from your SSI benefits) is reduced by more than $1 for every $2 of gross income.
Here are some examples of what the SSI payment would be while earning various amounts of income (in a state that doesn't add money to supplement the federal payment). These amounts are based on the maximum 2023 federal SSI payment of $914.
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You can subtract certain disability-related expenses from your total income from work, reducing the amount by which your SSI check will be cut. These impairment-related work expenses can include:
Social Security's "Red Book" provides a comprehensive list of qualifying impairment-related work expenses, but the SSA will look at each expense on a case-by-case basis.
Similarly, for blind SSI recipients, certain work expenses may be deducted from their gross work income. The list of deductible blind work expenses is broader than deductible impairment-related work expenses and includes:
A comprehensive list of qualifying blind work expenses can also be found in Social Security's Red Book.
Certain students can claim the student earned income exclusion, where the SSA will ignore part of their income from work. You can qualify for this exclusion if you're under the age of 22 and are regularly attending school as follows:
Individuals who are home-schooled because of their disability are also entitled to the exclusion.
In 2023, students eligible for this exclusion can exclude up to $2,220 of earned income per month, up to a maximum yearly amount of $8,950.
Unincurred business expenses are 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 disabled person. These expenses are deducted from gross income as if the self-employed person had incurred the business expense.
Inventory and tools used by employees for work are not counted as resources against the SSI resource (asset) limit.
The PASS program lets an individual receiving SSI benefits set aside money or other assets they own to pay for items or services needed to reach a specific work goal.
As discussed above, when a person receives SSI benefits, some of the extra income they make from working can be deducted from their overall SSI benefits. But when a person is approved for a PASS program, the additional income they earn that would otherwise be deducted from the overall SSI benefits could instead be set aside and put towards a specific employment goal.
For example, say you're working part-time and would like to try working full-time, but you need a car to get to your job. If you're approved for PASS, you can take that extra income and set it aside to purchase a used car to get full-time work.
You can get help applying for the PASS program from a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor or any advocacy organization that has a contract with the SSA.
Another way the SSA encourages individuals receiving benefits to try to enter the workforce again is by allowing "reinstatement without reapplying" for benefits.
For example, if your benefits are terminated because you earn too much income (whether earned or unearned), and then you quit working again, or lower your hours, you can submit a request to the SSA to have your benefits reviewed and reinstated without having to complete a new benefits application.
To have SSA grant an expedited reinstatement of benefits, you would need to submit updated medical evidence that demonstrates you can't continue working at the level of substantial gainful activity because of your medical condition, and the condition is the same as—or related to—your original impairment.
There are additional time limit restrictions to qualify for reinstatement of benefits. You can't request benefits to be reinstated earlier than the month in which you apply, and the application must be submitted within five years from the month your benefits were terminated.
If your income from work reaches the point that it fully "offsets" (erases) your SSI benefits (meaning your SSI disability benefits will stop), you won't receive cash benefits through the SSI program. But you can still receive Medicaid benefits as long as you meet the following requirements:
You would continue to be eligible for Medicaid 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. Generally, the threshold represents a combination of the following:
Social Security may deduct certain items from your income, like impairment-related work expenses, blind work expenses, or a plan to achieve self-support to calculate your earnings.
Social Security's continued Medicaid eligibility page has the Medicaid threshold amounts by state. In addition, states are allowed to offer Medicaid to individuals whose income exceeds the threshold amount.
Updated December 6, 2022