Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Work Incentive Program

Introduction

SSI’s Work Incentive Program allows for a part- or full-time return to work. As you earn wages, you lose money from your monthly benefit. You can work on and off, part- or full-time. Your health insurance, Medi-Cal, will remain in place, possibly indefinitely.

SSI deducts from your benefit as soon as Social Security realizes that you are working. You should notify your local office of any income reported to your Social Security number. Social Security will find the income by scanning your number through the Internal Revenue Service or the California State Tax Franchise Board. If you have not notified them, they will retroactively deduct from your benefit. You will owe them an overpayment. Social Security cannot track unreported or “under the table” income.

According to SSI’s rules, the first $85 you earn each month is “exempt” and will not affect your benefit ($65 if you collect SSI together with other disability benefits). Above that amount, they deduct $1 from your benefit for every $2 that you earn. The deduction is based on “gross” monthly wages.

Social Security pays most SSI recipients $870 per month in California (2009 figures). If you get a job paying $385 a month, you will lose $150 from your benefit ($385 minus the exempt $85, then half of the remaining $300, or $150). Your monthly income would then be $720 from SSI, plus your monthly wages of $385, minus taxes.

You could earn enough income to lose all of your SSI money. Currently in California you lose all your SSI dollars (if your benefit is $870) when your wages reach $1899 per month gross. To calculate the amount, double your SSI check and add $85 or $65 if you collect other disability benefits.

You can estimate earnings if your wages vary from month to month. Or you can report income to Social Security each month. If you estimate low, and you earned more, Social Security will tell you how much you owe them, quarterly or annually. If your estimate is high, and you earned less, they will owe you. Reporting monthly is best. Keep accurate records or have copies of your pay stubs from work to take into your local office each month.

Medi-Cal Continuation

As long as you receive even $1 a month from SSI, you keep your Medi-Cal health insurance, with no monthly share of cost (or premium). If you lose all your SSI dollars, Social Security should switch your SSI Medi-Cal to “1619B” Medi-Cal. This allows you to keep “no share of cost” Medi-Cal until your yearly income from wages hits $34,346. Social Security should switch your Medi-Cal to 1619B automatically if they see, from wage reports, that you are about to lose all your SSI dollars. Remind your local Social Security office to make the switch if you see your income approaching that amount.

If your wages end up costing you both your SSI and 1619B Medi-Cal, there are now other ways to purchase Medi-Cal even when you are working. See the Medi-Cal Fact Sheet for more information.

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE’s)

The amount deducted from your monthly SSI check is based on gross monthly income. SSI allows you to deduct certain amounts from your wages. These are called IRWE’s. IRWE’s fall into a few broad categories. Medical expenses related to your work that are not covered by health insurance. Equipment necessary to keep you at work, like wheelchair ramps, adaptive computer devices, etc. Transportation and personal care costs that are required to get you to work (a home health aide to help you bathe and dress in the morning, etc.). “Subsidized” or “supported” income, which means that an employer is paying you more for your work than it is really worth. For people with HIV, medical expenses are often the easiest to deduct if they are not covered by health insurance. To explore IRWE’s consult a benefits counselor or benefits attorney.

How long can you work?

You can work and still collect some SSI indefinitely. There is no time limit. Social Security is not supposed to conduct disability reviews just because you are working. If you lose both your SSI dollars and then leave work because of health, notify Social Security. They should restore your SSI. If you lose your SSI dollars and, because of wages, your 1619B Medi-Cal for over a year, Social Security would require a new disability application. Whether you work or not, keep your medical records current.

Summary

SSI’s Work Incentive Program allows disabled people to work, part- or full-time without losing access to their financial or medical benefits. If you have both SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must follow two sets of work-related rules. When dealing with Social Security, keep a log of your transactions, and copies of all communications. Notify your local office promptly of any changes in your wages, or ability to work.