Benefits and Work

How much you get in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Adult Public Assistance (APA) benefits each month depends on your countable income. The more countable income you have, the less you get in SSI and APA.

However, the SSI and APA programs have many rules that can help you if you work, so that when your earned income goes up, your overall situation improves:

On SSI? Get a quick estimate of how working may affect your income
Go

Rules That Mean Your Benefits Won’t Go Down as Much as Your Earned Income Goes Up

In general, your combined total amount of SSI and APA benefits will go down 50 cents for every dollar your earned income goes up. That means you’ll always end up with more total income when you work. However, some rules mean that your benefits will go down even less or not at all.

Some Work Expenses Are Not Countable Income

When you go to work, you have extra expenses. Some of these are called Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) and money you use for IRWEs won’t be counted by the SSI and APA programs. If you are blind, they are called Blind Work Expenses (BWEs).

Because SSI and APA won’t count the money you spend on IRWEs and BWEs, your total countable income for the two programs will be lower and your total benefits will stay higher than they otherwise would be.

You need to report your IRWEs or BWEs to Social Security and the Alaska Division of Public Assistance (DPA) when you report your income, including receipts or cancelled checks for your expenses.

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs)

For an expense to be counted as an IRWE, all of the following have to be true:

  • You bought an item or service that you need to work.
  • You need it because of a disability.
  • You paid for it yourself and nobody reimbursed you for the cost.
  • You paid a reasonable price for it.
  • You were working during the month you paid the expense.
  • You can fully document the expense with receipts or cancelled checks.

IRWEs are approved on a case-by-case basis. Try this form for reporting your IRWEs to SSA and DPA.

Example

Musetta uses a wheelchair and has a tough time getting ready for work by herself, so she has a personal care attendant who comes to her house each weekday morning and helps her get up, get dressed, have breakfast, and get out the door and on her way to work. This help makes it possible for Musetta to get to work and can be counted as an IRWE. That means the money she pays her attendant is not considered countable income and she gets a higher SSI benefits amount each month than she otherwise would.

Countable Earned Income (Non-Blind SSI Recipients):
Estimate Your Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs):
Popup Link

Blind Work Expenses (BWEs)

Blind Work Expenses can be any expense you have that lets you work. Unlike an IRWE, a BWE does not have to be related to your blindness or other medical condition or disability. Examples include:

  • Federal, state, and local income taxes
  • Social Security taxes
  • Visual and sensory aids
  • Translation of materials into Braille
  • Professional association fees
  • Union fees

Try this form for reporting your BWEs to SSA and DPA.

Countable Earned Income (Blind SSI Recipients):

Unlike IRWEs, BWEs are subtracted after dividing by two, rather than before.

The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) for Students Under 22

The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) lets students getting SSI and APA benefits earn up to $1,790 per month without having those wages be part of their countable income. That means they can work and keep getting their SSI and APA benefits. The SEIE has a $7,200 annual cap, so if you earn more than that in a year, your earnings will be counted and your benefits will go down.

The SEIE can help you if you get SSI and APA benefits and are both:

  • Under 22 years old, and
  • Regularly attending school.
    • This usually means you have to go to school more than:
      • 8 hours per week for college students
      • 12 hours per week for grades 7 – 12
      • 12 – 15 hours per week for job training
    • If there are reasons beyond your control that prevent you from going to school this much, Social Security may make an exception to these rules.
Example

Nick is 20, attending a local college, and earning $1,875 per month from a summer job. He has no other unearned income and no IRWEs.

The SEIE allows him to keep $1,790 per month of his earnings. The general exclusion ($20) and earned income exclusion ($65) reduce his remaining countable earned income to zero. So Nick will keep all of his earnings and also keep getting $735 per month in SSI benefits and $362 in APA benefits!

However, if Nick’s job lasts more than a few months, he’ll hit the $7,200 annual cap. At that point, his full earnings will be counted — and his SSI and APA benefits will drop to zero.

Your Countable Earned Income (with SEIE):

Tip: The SEIE’s monthly and annual caps let you have a higher-paying job during the summer months and then a part-time job during the school year without going over the annual cap.

Programs That Let You Earn More, Save More, and Keep Getting Benefits

There are several ways for you to save more than the $2,000 resource limit ($3,000 for couples) and keep getting SSI and APA. At the same time, the money you save up with these programs isn’t considered countable income by the SSI and APA programs, so you also get more in benefits.

ABLE Accounts

If your disability began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where you can keep up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI or APA. ABLE accounts mean that if you get a job, you can start saving up some money without losing your benefits. Additionally, the money in an ABLE account gets tax advantages similar to the way retirement accounts work.

However, ABLE accounts have restrictions:

  • They can only be opened through specific programs or institutions.
  • You can only open one ABLE account.
  • You and the other people making contributions on your behalf have a limit on how much you can deposit each year. Combined, you cannot deposit more than $14,000 in 2017.
  • You can only use money in an ABLE account for specific things, such as:
    • Education
    • Housing
    • Transportation
    • Help getting and keeping work
    • Health care
    • Assistive technology, and
    • Other approved expenses.

Learn more about ABLE accounts.

You can open an account in another state

You don’t have to open up your ABLE account in the same state you live in. That's because some state ABLE programs let people who live in other states open accounts. You can open an account in a different state from the one you live in.

Compare the ABLE account options in different states and figure out which one is right for you.

Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program lets people who get SSI and APA benefits earn more money and save up that money in a special account. A PASS can also help people who do not qualify for benefits become eligible.

The money that you save up must be used for a work-related goal. It can help pay for:

  • School or training
  • Starting a business, or
  • Equipment, support services, and other expenses related to your goal.

The PASS program has two basic benefits:

  • You can save up resources without losing your SSI benefits.
  • If you have income, you can put it into the PASS and it won’t be counted as income by SSI, which means your benefits amount won’t go down as much.

To set up a PASS, you must:

  • Get SSI benefits or become eligible for SSI benefits due to an approved PASS application.
  • Have income other than SSI (for example, SSDI benefits or wages from a job) or have resources over $2,000 that you can use to fund your PASS.
  • Have a work goal that will help you earn enough money to lower your SSI benefits or get off SSDI benefits altogether.
  • Be able to write a plan that shows how saving a certain amount of money will let you reach your work goal. You can get help writing your plan from a PASS specialist.
  • Be under age 65. If you are 65 or older, you may be able to set up a PASS if you were getting SSI benefits based on disability or blindness in the month before you turn 65.

Read more about PASS or talk to a PASS specialist.

The Ticket to Work Program: Job Training and Help Finding Work

The Ticket to Work program helps adults with disabilities prepare for, find, and keep work. To qualify, you must:

  • Be 18 – 64 years old, and
  • Get SSI or SSDI benefits.

When you are ready to think about work, you can get started with the Ticket program by contacting an Employment Network (EN). ENs are organizations that can give you the various free employment services that Ticket to Work provides, including:

While you are in the Ticket program, Social Security does not make you do medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) as long as you make timely progress in meeting your employment goals. That means you don’t lose your eligibility for SSI, SSDI, or APA for medical reasons.

Learn more about the Ticket to Work program.

Rules That Help if You Stop Getting Benefits Due to Work

While there are many rules that can help you keep getting monthly SSI benefits, if you earn enough, you will eventually stop getting those benefits. Even so, there are SSI rules and other programs that will keep helping you.

If You Need SSI and APA Again

If you stop getting SSI because your income goes up, but then your income goes down again, you may not have to reapply for SSI benefits.

If it has been less than 12 months since your last SSI payment or if you qualify for SSI 1619(b), you can get your SSI benefits started up again by reporting to your local Social Security office that you are no longer working.

For APA, if your income never went over the APA need standard, contact your Division of Public Assistance (DPA) office and report that you aren’t working. Your APA benefits should start up again. If your income went over the APA need standard, you may need to reapply.

If it has been more than 12 months since you got SSI, you can ask for Expedited Reinstatement (EXR) for SSI if:

  • Your SSI benefits amount went to zero because of your income
  • You can’t work at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level because of your disability
  • Your current medical impairment is the same as the one that originally made you eligible for SSI, and
  • You stopped getting SSI benefits less than five years ago.

If you qualify for EXR, you can get up to six months of temporary SSI benefits while Social Security makes sure you still qualify.

Health Coverage Rules

Many people who get SSI and APA worry that if they work, they’ll lose the Medicaid health coverage that comes with APA benefits automatically. Fortunately, you can usually keep Medicaid coverage even if your SSI and APA cash benefits go to zero because of earnings. And, if you can't keep your Medicaid, there will be other coverage options.

The APA Need Standard Is Higher than the APA Payment Level

The first thing to keep in mind is that the APA need standard is higher than the APA payment level. What this means for you is that if your countable income is higher than the APA payment level, your APA payments stop but your APA-related Medicaid coverage continues as long as your countable income is below the need standard.

For a single person living alone, the APA need standard is $1,366 per month. However, since not all income is countable for APA, you could actually work at a job and make way more than this amount and still qualify for Medicaid benefits. Learn more about how your income is counted.

Medicaid through SSI’s 1619(b) Rule

If you’re on SSI and Medicaid and your SSI benefits amount goes to zero because you go back to work, SSI’s 1619(b) rule means you can keep your Medicaid coverage.

To keep your automatic Medicaid coverage under 1619(b), you must:

  • Have been eligible for SSI benefits for at least one month
  • Need Medicaid coverage to keep working
  • Still have resources below the SSI limit of $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple)
  • Have less than $56,204 in gross earnings, and
  • Still meet all other SSI rules.

Learn more about Medicaid in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article.

The Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In Program

If your earnings cause your income to go over the 1619(b) limit or cause your resources to go over SSI’s limit, you should look into the Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In, which has a much higher income limit and higher resource limit.

To qualify for the Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or a qualified immigrant
  • Be working
  • Have a disability that meets Social Security’s medical standards.
    • Note: For the Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In, SSA’s disability rules related to income do not apply.
  • Have unearned income at or below the APA need standard ($1,366 per month). Only your unearned income matters for this requirement.
  • Have household countable income at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG), including other members of your family you live with. That’s $3,138 per month if you live alone.
    • Not all of your earned income is counted. If you live alone and have no unearned income, you could actually earn up to $6,360 per month and still qualify for the Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In. (That's as much as $76,320 per year!)
  • Have less than $10,000 in resources ($15,000 for couples). The house you live in and one car are not counted.

If you get Working Disabled Medicaid Buy-In coverage, you may need to pay a monthly premium. The amount you pay is based on your income and your family’s income.

Learn more in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article.

Other Health Coverage Options

If you lose Medicaid coverage, there should be another health coverage you can get, such as 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.

Learn more about individual coverage in DB101’s How Health Benefits Work article.