Not knowing which Social Security benefits you get

Social Security has two disability benefits programs with very similar names:

Some people qualify for both programs at the same time. If you get benefits from Social Security, but aren’t sure which ones you get, order a free Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Thinking all benefits are run by the same agency

Different agencies operate different disability benefits programs:

Not giving enough information when you apply

When you apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) benefits, the decision can take a long time. You don’t want your applications to be denied because of some missing piece of information. Make sure you include contact information for all doctors, physical therapists, and others who have treated you for your disability.

Not working because you think you’ll lose benefits you need

Many people who get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) benefits are afraid to work because they think they’ll lose their benefits and Medicaid coverage. However, SSI and APA are designed to make work possible.

When you work, the Earned Income Exclusion means that you get to keep at least your first $65 in earned income each month without lowering your SSI or APA benefits at all. After that, every dollar of earnings only reduces your SSI or APA benefits amount by 50 cents, so you usually end up with more money than you would if you weren’t working.

If you earn enough that your countable income goes over the APA need standard and you stop qualifying for APA-related Medicaid, you may be able to keep your Medicaid coverage through SSI’s 1619(b) rule or through the Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In. Even if you lose your Medicaid, you should either become eligible for employer-sponsored coverage or private individual coverage. And, if you can’t afford the individual coverage, the government may help you pay for it through tax credits.

Try DB101's Finding the Right Health Coverage for You interactive guide.

If you stop getting SSI benefits and then your job doesn’t work out, you may be able to get back on SSI benefits quickly through quick benefits restart or Expedited Reinstatement (EXR), as long as you still have a disability and meet other SSI rules.

The bottom line: Most people who get SSI and APA who go back to work end up better off.

Not documenting work expenses

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) or Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) are expenses that allow you to work. These expenses are subtracted from your countable income when calculating your benefits amount. This means you get higher SSI and APA benefits.

You must have receipts or cancelled checks for all IRWEs or BWEs, otherwise they won’t be subtracted from your countable income. Make sure you always get receipts for all work expenses and file them with both Social Security and the Division of Public Assistance:

Not reporting changes in income, resources, or living situation

If you have a change in your earned income, unearned income, resources, living situation, or marital status, you must:
  1. Report the change to Social Security. For SSI, report changes from one month within the first 6 days of the following month to avoid an overpayment.
  2. Report the change to your local Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office. For APA, report changes within 10 days after the change happened.

Learn more about how to report changes.