SSI and Work

Social Security work incentives, as well as the new Ticket to Work program, may support an individual’s efforts to re-enter the workforce.

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As an individual considers working, these essential Social Security definitions should be considered.

  1. Disability: an inability to work because of a disabling condition that will continue for at least one year. Your disability will be questioned if you work during the first year of receiving benefits.
  2. Working: any physical or mental activity that generates earned income.

Income and Earnings: Determining your Monthly Benefit

SSI has monthly benefit rates for individuals, couples, and the blind. When you receive income from another source (a job, or an SSDI benefit, for example), your monthly benefit rate is reduced, but not by the entire amount of your income. Deductions are made from your gross income to find out how much of your income is counted ("total countable income").

To determine your monthly SSI benefit amount, subtract your total countable income from the SSI benefit applicable to you. You will not receive an SSI benefit if your countable income is over the SSI monthly benefit amount.

Countable Income Definitions

Unearned Income: Monthly disability payments, or other funds, received without any physical or mental work performed. Examples include: disability benefits (SDI, SSDI, STD, LTD), income from a trust or investment, dividends, profits or funds received form any source other than work. Some unearned income is not counted, such as income from Pell Grants and Food Stamps.

Earned Income: Monthly salaries, wages, tips, professional fees and other amounts received as pay for physical or mental work actually performed. SSA counts only your net earnings from self-employment, and you may be allowed other deductions.

Calculating your Benefit

Step 1: If you have unearned income (for example, an SSDI benefit), subtract a $20 "General Income Exclusion" from it to calculate your countable unearned income. If you do not have unearned income, this exclusion is applied to any earned income.

Countable Unearned Income Calculation
Unearned Income
- $20 General Income Exclusion

= Countable Unearned Income

Step 2: If you have earned income (for example, wages), subtract a $65 dollar "Earned Income Exclusion" from it (along with the remainder of the $20 "General Income Exclusion" that you have not applied to Unearned Income), along with any Impairment Related Work Expenses, and divide the resulting figure by two to find your countable earned income.

Countable Earned Income Calculation
Earned Income
- $65 Earned Income Exclusion
- $20 General Income Exclusion
(only if you haven't already applied it to unearned income)
- Impairment Related Work Expenses
÷ 2

= Countable Earned Income

Step 3: Add your countable unearned income to your countable earned income to find your total countable income.

Total Countable Income Calculation
Countable Unearned Income
+ Countable Earned Income

= Total Countable Income

Step 4: Subtract your Total Countable Income from the SSI Benefit Rate to find your Monthly Benefit. The 2016 California Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monthly benefit rate is $889.40 for an individual and $1,496.20 for a couple.

Monthly Benefit Calculation
California SSI Monthly Benefit Rate
- Total Countable Income

= Monthly Benefit

Continued Medi-Cal Coverage: Social Security's 1619(B) Provision

If an individual has earnings that reduce a monthly SSI cash benefit to zero, he or she may be eligible to continue Medi-Cal at no cost if he or she:

  • Received Supplemental Security Income in the past twelve months;
  • Continues to meet medical disability requirements;
  • Continues to meet non-disability requirements;
  • Needs Medicaid health coverage to continue to work; and
  • Has income (wages) that are below the 1619(b) threshold amount of $37,184 annually (for 2016 in California).

Note: for SSI beneficiaries who are blind, 1619(b) threshold amount is $38,504 annually (for 2016 in California).

Each state's threshold amount is determined by Social Security to measure whether or not a person’s earnings are high enough to replace SSI and Medi-Cal (Medicaid) benefits. This threshold is based on:

  • The average Medicaid expenses in that state; and
  • The amount of earnings which cause SSI cash payments to stop for that individual in that state.

An individual with earnings higher than the threshold amount can apply for an individual threshold amount through Social Security if the individual’s situation includes any of the following:

The Social Security Administration provides additional information about Social Security’s 1619(b) provision.


It is very important that you report all of your gross income to Social Security promptly. Failure to do so could result in an overpayment of benefits. You will likely be held responsible for repayment of benefits if an overpayment occurs.

If your wages change, report the change right away. Individuals who are self-employed should report earnings based on the most recent IRS tax return. To report earnings, contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (voice) or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Other Social Security Work Rules

Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE) are documented expenses for services or items related to one's impairment which the beneficiary paid for in order to support work activity. Some examples of IRWE expenses are wheelchair repairs, out of pocket payments for prescription drugs or medical expenses, or a computer screen reader.

  • Impairment Related Work Expenses must be verified with original receipts or canceled checks.
  • Impairment Related Work Expenses are approved at the local Social Security field office on a case-by-case basis.
  • There is no fixed list of approved Impairment Related Work Expenses.
Estimate Your Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs):
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PASS Program

The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program allows certain individuals with disabilities to set aside earned or unearned income. Social Security will exempt this income when placed into an approved PASS plan and used towards a vocational goal, such as college or a training school. PASS is a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. You must meet SSI financial rules to use the program. A detailed application is required. PASS can be a valuable tool for competitive employment.

Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

If an SSI recipient is under age 22, not considered head of the household, not married, and attending school regularly, he or she is allowed to exclude up to $1,780 of earned income per month. The maximum annual student earned income exclusion is $7,180 (for 2016).