Work Incentive Programs for SSDI and SSI

Published on: January 15, 2015

The SSA's incentive programs can help you reenter the workforce despite your condition.For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplementary Security Income (SSI) recipients in the United States, work incentive programs provided by the SSA are designed to help those affected by medical conditions re-enter the work force and lessen the effects of work on their benefits.

In this blog, we go into detail on the various work incentive programs provided by the SSA, as well as ways new income streams can potentially affect your benefit amounts.

Working Income and Your Benefits

As a general rule, you will continue to receive due payments for SSI if your total countable work earnings, in addition to any other income, remains below the federal benefit limit. Supplementary Security Income is a need-based program, designed to help those who cannot afford to do so stay afloat. If you begin working to support yourself in the wake or disability or age, you can expect your monthly SSI benefits to decrease in relation to your wages.

In modifying your payment amounts, the SSA will not count the first $85 of your monthly wages (or the first $65, if you receive additional income).  Beyond this amount, however, the SSA will deduct $1.00 for every 2.00 earned from working .

To put this into perspective:,if you earn $1100/month from your new employment. The SSA will grant an $85 deduction in their payment modifications from the start (putting your total for payment adjustments at $1015), and then deduct $1.00 for each remaining 2.00r from your SSI benefit amount. This amount ($507.50, in this example) is then deducted from your overall monthly SSI payment.

Work incentive programs, in this sense, are designed to help the disabled, blind and those over 65 return to work and support themselves autonomously, while still receiving their needed SSI beneifts.

A Detailed Breakdown of Work Incentive Programs

The following is a comprehensive guide to work incentive programs provided by the SSA, designed to help the disabled or blind return to work and actively support themselves in lieu of their condition.

  • Earned Income Exclusion; this refers to the $85/$65 in earnings the SSA discounts when making SSI payment adjustments. Essentially, this ensures that the SSA will never reduce your SSI payments by over 50% of your monthly working income. It provides a need-based safety blanket for active earners who still fall below the federal benefit limit.
  • Blind Work Expenses; as provided by the SSA, workplace expenses for blind individuals are not incorporated into benefit payment adjustments. This includes all working expenses that make it possible for a blind SSI recipient to work, including transportation costs, guide dog expenses, income taxes and meals during work hours.  Blind Work Expenses are deducted from wages to determine the countable wages used in the computation.
  • Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE); SEIE applies to all SSI applicants under age 22 and regularly attending school. For those applicable for SEIE, the SSA will not count up to $1,750 of earned income when determining payment amounts, with a maximum yearly exclusion of $7,060.
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS); this program is the SSA’s way preserving your ability to save money for your future/employment. This includes funds set aside for you to return to school, receive specialized occupational training or even start your own business. When approved under PASS, the SSA will not count funds put toward these goals in determining your monthly benefit amount.
  • Property Essential to Self-Support (PESS); PESS refers to the funds and resources necessary for an applicant to remain self-supporting. The equipment or tools necessary that permit you to continue working. The SSA wants you to actively return to the workforce; they won’t inhibit your ability to work by reducing funds based on equipment needed for work.
  • Continued Medicaid Eligibility; even if your SSI earnings and monthly income surpass the federal benefit limit, you may still be covered by Medicaid if you rely on Medicaid in order to continue working; this provision is provided under Section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act.
  • Continued Payment Under a Vocational Rehabilitation Program (Section 301 Payments); for both SSDI and SSI beneficiaries, benefit payments will continue beyond recovery if those affected are actively enrolled in an approved vocational rehabilitation (VR) program. These programs provide work incentives for the formerly disabled, and help those enrolled become self-supporting following disability.
  • Trial Work Period; as determined by the SSA, you will continue to receive your full Social Security disability benefits for at least nine months during your return to work. This provides a safety net for applicants returning to work; the 9 montns need not be consecutive.
  • Ticket to Work; the SSA’s Ticket to Work program was established in 1999 to help the SSDI and SSI recipients return to work and meet working goals, while still receiving necessary support. Working with employment networks based on vocation, the SSA will work with you to find a suitable career, and return to the workforce using free employment services.

          It is very important to note that the applicability of the above work incentives vary by program 

         (Social Security and SSI).   


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