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A Detailed Description of How Work Affects Your SSI Benefits

Can I work and keep my benefits?

How does earning money affect my benefits?
You will receive SSI checks until the Countable Income you earn exceeds SSI limits, generally the more you earn the less you will receive from SSI. Under SSI guidelines, half of the amount you earn over $85 per month (general and earned exclusions) will be deducted from your SSI check. For example, if you earn $630 per month and receive an SSI benefits of $771:

Earned and Unearned Gross Income$ 630
Minus General ($20) and Earned ($65) income exclusions-$ 85
Adjusted Gross Income= $ 545
$ 545/2= $ 272.50
Countable Income = $272.50

Federal Benefit Rate (FBR)$ 771.00
Minus Countable Income-$ 272.50
= SSI payment= $ 498.50

Your Total Income:
Gross Monthly Income$ 630.00
Plus SSI Payment+ $ 498.50
Total Gross Monthly Income= $1,128.50

What is Countable Income?

How much you receive of your monthly SSI check depends on your level of Countable Income, which is both your earned wages and unearned income (e.g., SSDI, Veterans benefits, pension, cash, etc.) divided by two, minus approved deductions that may include:
  • general exclusion ($20)
  • earned income exclusion ($65)
  • Impairment Related Work Expenses
  • Money set aside in a PASS to get a job or start your own business

Note: Other sources of assistance, including food, food stamps, clothing, shelter, and some home-energy assistance are not considered income.

What are the SSI Income Limits?

If the SSI payment is $771 per month, you can earn up to twice that amount plus $85 (plus other approved deductions such as an IRWE or PASS) before your SSI checks will stop.

There are two ways you can calculate the point at which your FBR (Federal Benefit Rate) or SSI Monthly Benefit would be zero, called "the break even point":

SSI Benefit$ 771
Multiply by 2 (or twice FBR)x 2
Equals= $ 1,542

General Income Exclusion+ $ 20
Earned Income Exclusion+ $ 65
Break even point= $ 1,627
Gross Monthly Income$ 1,627
Minus Exclusions ($20 + $65)-$ 85
= $ 1,542
Minus Twice FBR ($771 X 2)$1,542
SSI payment= 0

What if my earnings are over the SSI Income Limit?
When you earn more than the break even amount your SSI checks stop. If your income drops below this amount during the first 60 months in which you are working, then your benefit check will start again without a new application.

Can I keep Medicaid coverage if I am working and earn over SSI limits?
You are entitled to Medicaid if you:
• continue to have a disabling condition
• need Medicaid in order to work and are unable to afford similar health insurance
• meet all SSI requirements except that you earn too much
• inform SSA that you want to be a "section 1619(b)" case

Continued Medicaid Coverage: section 1619(b)
Section 1619(b) protects Medicaid benefits when earnings are too high for SSI cash payments. Your eligibility is based on "threshold amounts." The threshold amounts is what SSA calls the measure that it uses to decide whether your earnings are high enough to replace your SSI and Medicaid benefits. For more information contact your State Medicaid office in your area or go to

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE)

Expenses that are related to your disability and that make it possible for you to work can be deducted from your Countable Income. Speak with your SSA representative for a complete list of allowable expenses.

Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS)

A PASS encourages people to become self supporting by allowing money set aside for a specified time toward a work goal to be deducted from Countable Income. Allowable deductions include money saved for education, vocational training, work related equipment, or starting a business. If you earn more than the SSI limit, a PASS can reduce your countable income so that you receive a portion of your monthly benefit check.

To begin a PASS, meet with your case manager and/or a vocational rehabilitation counselor to discuss your work goals and then fill out the application.

Your plan must:
• specify a work goal that you are capable of performing
• specify a time frame for reaching that goal
• show how the money will be used
• be in writing (using the form SSA-545†)
• be approved by Social Security
• be reviewed periodically by Social Security

Money put into a PASS plan:
• is not considered countable income
• can be recovered through a higher adjusted SSI cash benefit
• can reduce countable income below the break even point, thereby establishing or maintaining SSI and Medicaid eligibility

†You can get copies of the form, SSA-545, from your local SSA office or you can download it from the SSA web site:

Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits
If you are unable to work because of your medical condition, you would be able to request reinstatement of benefits. You must file the request for reinstatement with Social Security within 60 months from the month of their termination. While Social Security is making a new determination, you may receive up to six months of provisional benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid, as appropriate. If Social Security decides that the medical condition no longer prevents you from working, the provisional benefits would not be considered an overpayment.

Vocational Rehabilitation: The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Act of 1999
This law establishes the Ticket to Work and Self sufficiency program. Social Security beneficiaries will receive a “Ticket” to obtain vocational rehabilitation (VR) or other support services from an approved provider. Those services are designed to provide you with training or other assistance you need to update your job skills, start a new line of work, or go to work for the first time. SSA does not provide those services but will pay for them when certain conditions are met. If you enter a vocational rehabilitation program, your monthly benefit check would continue until the end of the program. The Ticket program is voluntary. Once you begin using the Ticket, Social Security cannot initiate a continuing disability medical review.

Continuing Eligibility Review
SSI usually reviews client's cases each year to determine if they are still disabled and qualify for assistance including Medicaid. SSA will not conduct a review while you are using a "Ticket to Work" or in a vocational rehabilitation program.

If the eligibility review determines that you can move toward self support, you may be referred to a vocational rehabilitation agency to acquire the skills and training that you need in order to get a job. Social Security would pay the cost of these services and you would continue receiving SSI benefits until you had completed the program.

For more information, contact:

Social Security Administration
Phone: (800) 772 1213

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