Myth #2: I will lose my SSI/SSDI checks when I start to work.

It is a common concern to be worried about starting work and not earning enough money to pay your expenses and, at the same time, not getting your SSI/SSDI checks anymore.

Both SSI and SSDI have rules to protect your benefits so you can try working and not worry about losing your cash benefits if you can’t keep working, or you need to work fewer hours. Some of these rules are the same if you are on SSI or SSDI, but most of them are different. It is important to know if you are on SSI or SSDI, or both. If you are not sure, you may want to request something called a Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) from your Social Security office to find out. For more information on BPQY, click here. You can also read the first page of this section, which has information on figuring whether you are on SSI or SSDI.

If you are on SSI:
  • SSI uses a Countable Income Calculation to determine your cash benefits based on your monthly total countable income. See the SSI and Work section for details on how this calculation works. Important note: if you are only on SSI, you will always make more money by working.
  • Also, if you are under age 22, are going to school, are on SSI, and are working, you may be eligible for the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE). This program will let you work while going to school and earn up to $1,870 per month without it reducing your SSI cash benefit. The maximum yearly exclusion is $7,550.
  • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) are disability-related expenses you pay out-of-pocket so that you can work. Some examples are: transportation expenses for persons with mobility disabilities, assistive technology, and specialized or modified office equipment (desks, phones, or computers). Click here for more examples of IRWEs. You may be able to deduct these expenses when calculating your income so your countable income is lower and you can keep more of your SSI cash benefits. To be deductible, the expense must:

o Be paid by you and not paid or reimbursed by another source

o Relate to a serious medical condition, and

o Be necessary; without it, you will be unable to work

  • If you get SSI and have a specific work goal, you may be eligible for the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program. This program will let you save your earnings or unearned income, like SSDI, for expenses related to your work goal. While using a PASS, you will keep getting your SSI benefits for living expenses. PASS funds have to be kept separate from your other money, and you have to keep records of your PASS expenses.
  • The Social Security Administration provides special staff people, called PASS Cadre, to help you understand and coordinate your PASS. To learn more, read the DB101 article on PASS or contact a PASS Cadre.
If you are on SSDI:
  • The Trial Work Period (TWP) will let you earn income while you keep getting your SSDI benefits. You have 9 months of TWP to use; they do not need to be in a row. This year if you earn more than $880 in a particular month, it counts as a Trial Work month. If you earn less than $880, it doesn’t. Either way, you keep getting your full SSDI benefits until you’ve used all 9 TWP months within a 5-year period. For more information on TWP, read DB101's SSDI and Work page.
  • You may also be eligible for an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). The EPE begins the first month after your Trial Work Period ends and it will continue for 36 months in a row. During this time, if you earn less than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level ($1,220 per month in 2019; $2,040 if you are blind) in any of the 36 months, you will get your SSDI benefits that month. If you earn more than the SGA, you will not get SSDI benefits, but you will still be in SSDI eligibility status. That means if your earnings fall below SGA, your SSDI benefits can simply be restarted. For more information on EPE, click here.
  • If you are on SSDI and have Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs), Social Security may allow you to deduct the value of these expenses from your gross earnings after the Trial Work Period. Deducting your IRWEs may allow you to keep your SSDI benefits if it reduces your earnings below the SGA level.
  • If you get SSDI and have a specific work goal, you may want to look at the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program. This program allows you to save earned income and unearned income to pay for expenses related to your work goal. Note that you must be eligible, or become eligible, for SSI to qualify for a PASS. While using a PASS, you will continue to get your SSI benefits for living expenses. To learn more, read the DB101 article on PASS or contact a PASS Cadre.