How Your Income Is Counted

The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Alaska Division of Public Assistance (DPA) look at your income when they decide whether you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Adult Public Assistance (APA), and Medicaid, and, if so, how much in benefits you should get.

When they look at your income, SSA and DPA calculate that you should be spending some of it on your basic needs. The part of your monthly income that they expect you to spend on basic needs is called your countable income. If your countable income is below certain levels, you may qualify for Medicaid coverage, APA payments, and SSI payments.

If you qualify for APA or SSI payments, your countable income is subtracted from APA payment level for a person in your situation and what is left over is the combined amount of APA and SSI benefits you can get.

Example

Billy applies for SSI and APA. Billy lives alone and nobody helps him with his rent or food, so his APA payment level is $1,097. He he has a total of $300 per month in countable income, so he can get a combined total of $1,097 - $300 = $797 per month in benefits ($435 from SSI and $362 from APA). He'll also get APA-related Medicaid coverage.

Earned and Unearned Income

Not all of your income is counted by the SSI and APA programs. Here’s how they look at your earned and unearned income:

  • Earned income is money you get from work you do, including salaries, wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees, or other compensation you get in exchange for physical or mental work.
    • Only about half of your earned income is counted.
  • Unearned income is money you get in any other way, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); short- or long-term disability insurance; VA benefits; Workers’ Compensation; and income, dividends, or profits from a trust or investment.
    • Almost all of your unearned income is counted.

The bottom line: If you work, you’ll usually be better off, because your SSI and APA benefits will only go down by about 50 cents for every dollar you earn. Learn more about rules that help people who work while they get SSI and APA benefits.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) does not usually affect APA or SSI

APA doesn't count your Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) as income: when you get your PFD, your APA doesn't change.

SSI does count the PFD as unearned income, but the state of Alaska repays Social Security for any SSI overpayments caused by your PFD. That means you still get the same amount of money from SSI. Tip: Spend your PFD or put it in an ABLE account so that you don't go over SSI’s resource limit .

Note: The first $2,000 per year in Alaska Native corporation dividends are not counted by SSI and APA. Any amount over $2,000 is counted.

The Countable Income Calculation

The exact way your income is counted is complicated. Read about the different steps in the calculation and then get an idea of how your income affects your benefits.

Step 1: Countable Unearned Income

Start with your total unearned income. Subtract $20, the general exclusion that everyone gets. What’s left is your countable unearned income. Note: Do not include the Permanent Fund Dividend as unearned income.

Countable Unearned Income:

Step 2: Countable Earned Income

Start with your gross earned income before taxes are deducted. If you’re self-employed, you subtract your work expenses before reporting your earned income, the way you do when you file your taxes.

Subtract anything left over from the $20 general exclusion (you only have money left over from the general exclusion if you had less than $20 in unearned income).

Then subtract another $65, the earned income exclusion that everyone who works gets. Also subtract any Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). Learn more about IRWEs.

Take what’s left, and divide that amount by two. The result is your countable earned income.

Countable Earned Income (Non-Blind SSI Recipients):

If you are blind, you use Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) instead of Impairment Related Work Expenses and the calculation is slightly different. Learn more about BWEs.

Countable Earned Income (Blind SSI Recipients):

Step 3: Total Countable Income

Add your countable unearned income to your countable earned income. Subtract any contribution to a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). The result is your total countable income. Learn more about PASS.

Total Countable Income:

Step 4: Benefits Calculation

Start with the maximum possible SSI benefits for your living situation. Subtract your countable income. The result is your SSI benefits amount. If you get SSI benefits and are 18 or older, you also get the maximum APA benefits amount for a person in your situation.

SSI Benefit Calculation:

If your countable income is larger than the maximum SSI benefit, you do not get monthly SSI benefits. However, you may still qualify for APA benefits. Subtract your countable income from the APA payment level for a person in your situation. If you don’t get SSI, the result is your APA benefits amount. If your countable income is larger than the APA payment level, you do not get APA cash benefits.

APA Benefit Calculation If You Don't Get SSI:

Note: Working students can take some of their income out of the countable income calculation. Learn more about the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE).

If you're not already getting SSI or APA benefits, pay for your own food and shelter, and are not married, try the following tool to see how much your benefits might be. Learn more about how your living situation can affect your benefits.

Your SSI and APA Benefit Calculation: