SSI/SSDI and Employment: A Brief Overview of SSA Work Incentives

Case managers are encouraged to support individuals to pursue their vocational goals, both before and after an application for SSI/SSDI. This overview will briefly discuss how the Social Security Administration (SSA) views work activity during an SSI/SSDI application, and work incentives available to individuals when they are receiving disability benefits.

Working while applying for SSI/SSDI
You can work during the application process, and information gathered from work activity can help strengthen the SSI/SSDI application by documenting any functional limitations an individual experiences at work.
  • SSA looks at the type and amount of work completed to see if an individual can maintain “substantial gainful activity (SGA).” This is quantified as earning $1,220/month (2019 amount)
 
Working after being approved for SSI/SSDI: Cash Benefits
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program, so an individual’s check will likely reduce when they start working. SSA first applies a few exclusions and then counts $1 for every $2 of income from employment.
  • General Income Exclusion - SSA will exclude the first $20 of earned or unearned income a person receives.
  • Earned Income Exclusion – SSA will exclude the first $65 a person earns from working.
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) - allows an SSI recipient to save money for an educational or vocational goal in a separate account, which is not counted as a resource or countable income when determining their SSI payment.
    • Ex: Saving $100/month towards tuition for a training program
  • Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE) - an out-of-pocket expense that enables the person to go to work. The expense must be related to the disability, such as medication co-pays, special equipment, and special transportation.
    • Ex: 5 medication co-pays of $10 each = $50
  • Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) -  Available to certain SSI recipients who are under age 22 and regularly attending school. Allows the student to exclude a specified amount of gross earned income per month up to a maximum annual exclusion, thus decreasing the amount of countable earned income.
    • In 2019, the exclusion is $1,870 per month, up to a yearly maximum of $7,550
 
How does work activity affect SSI cash benefits?
Gross Earnings From Work:
$500
General income exclusion:
($20)
Earned income exclusion:
($65)
PASS Plan
($100)
IRWE
($50)
Total income after exclusions:
= $265
Divide in half:
$265/2
Countable income:
= $132.50
Maximum SSI check – countable income:
$771-132.50
Amount of New SSI Check:
$638.50
Total Income (SSI check + earnings)
$1,138.50

*Calculations made using the 2019 SSI Federal Benefit Rate of $771/month

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the program you pay into when you work and the benefit amount is based on past earnings. Because of this, SSA has some work incentives that encourage individuals to try working again.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP) – 9 months in a rolling 5-year period, during which a person can work as much as they are able and still keep their full SSDI check.
  • After the TWP, there is an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), a 3-year period during which in any month that a person isn’t able to earn over SGA, they are eligible to receive their full SSDI check.
  • Subsidy – a value put on the extra support that an employer provides, such as a job coach, or reduced workload for an individual with disabilities.
  • Subsidies, along with IRWEs, can be used by SSDI recipients to reduce countable income during the EPE.  If earnings can be reduced below SGA, benefit payments would continue.
 
Working after being approved for SSI/SSDI: Health Insurance
  • Medicaid (SSI) – Individuals may retain Medicaid eligibility even if SSI payments stop due to earnings from work and those earnings are below a certain threshold under federal rule 1619b. This earnings threshold is different in each state and varies widely.
  • Medicare (SSDI) – Coverage continues for 93 months after SSDI payments stop due to earnings from work. After this, Medicare can be purchased under certain conditions and Part A premiums would apply.
 
Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits
This is a five-year safety net after cash benefits end due to earnings from work that allows an expedited return to cash and medical benefits if someone is unable to continue earning above SGA due to their disabling condition.
  • Social Security will review the request to determine if the disabling condition is the same as, or related to, the impairment in the original claim, and applicants can receive up to six months of provisional benefits while the decision is processed.
 
Social Security’s Ticket to Work Program
A free program available to all SSI/SSDI beneficiaries. SSA has specialists that can connect individuals to employment supports in their area, such as career counseling, training, and job placement. Also, they can explain in detail how going back to work will impact a person’s benefits.
  • www.choosework.net  has links to local employment resources and offers free training webinars for beneficiaries and service providers.
 
Additional Resources
“SOAR and Employment for SSI/SSDI Beneficiaries.” The SAMHSA SOAR TA Center. http://www.prainc.com/soar/cms-assets/documents/employment041013.pdf
 
The Red Book - A Guide to Work Incentives. Social Security Administration’s guidebook on work incentives. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/redbook/