I want to work. Can you tell me how to get SSI while working?

By / March 3, 2016 / SSI Benefits / 19 Comments

Find out how to get SSI while working by using SSI work incentives and learn which work earnings reduce SSI payments and which do not.

Earned Income and SSI
Many people want to know how to get SSI and work too. Sometimes you can do just that. Whether you continue to be eligible for SSI while working depends on two things: First, after all exclusions have been applied, your combined unearned income and earned income must fall below the SSI income limit, which is less than $735 for individuals and less than $1,103 for a couple. Second, your work must not be substantial gainful activity. For an explanation of substantial gainful activity, which is called SGA for short, see our article What Is Disability According to Social Security Disability Laws? Although the article addresses the definition of disability for adults, the concept of SGA described in the article also applies to disabled or blind children who are working.

SSI’s Definition of Earned Income
Generally speaking earned income consists of wages from a job, whether paid in cash or in another form, payments for services performed in a sheltered workshop or work activities center, net earnings from a business if a person is self-employed. It also includes royalties earned in connection with a publication, honoraria received for services rendered, and artwork if you are a self-employed artist.

SSI Work Incentives
SSI law includes several work incentives, some of which apply only to SSI recipients and not to Social Security beneficiaries. Some incentives help you to work and continue to receive SSI. Others are designed to help you eventually return to work at a level you no longer need SSI. Some of the incentives may serve both functions at one time or another. SSI work incentives include Impairment-Related Work Expenses for the disabled, work expenses for the blind, the Student Earned Income Exclusion, the Ticket to Work, and the Plan to Achieve Self-support.

The Ticket to Work program is free and voluntary. The program connects you with a network of vocational specialists in state agencies and private companies. Some examples of services that are available through the Ticket to Work program are return-to-work planning, job-search assistance, and other support services that you may need to obtain and keep a job. If you are using a Ticket to Work, in some circumstances, your claim will not be reviewed for medical recovery.

For more detailed information about Impairment-Related Work Expenses and work expenses for the blind, see our article I Have a Lot of Extra Work Expenses because I am Disabled. Can You Tell Me How to Get SSI to Cover Them? Additional information on Plans to Achieve Self-Support and the Student Earned Income Exclusion, can be found in With Some Education, I Could Work Full-time and End My SSI Disability Eligibility. How Can I Get Money for Schooling? and How Does Attending School Affect my SSI Disability Status?

Continuation of Medicaid
In some circumstances, your Medicaid health insurance will continue if SSI ends because of your work. For Medicaid to continue, your income must be below your state’s Medicaid income limit. Your local Social Security office can tell you your state’s Medicaid income limit. There are three additional requirements: You need health insurance to continue working, that is, you cannot maintain health good enough to work without the medical services and goods that Medicaid provides. You cannot afford similar medical insurance. You continue to have a disabling condition; and you meet all SSI eligibility requirements, except for your earned income.

SSI Earned Income Exclusions
In addition to the work-incentive provisions already mentioned, certain types of earned income are excluded from counting against the SSI income limit. Some of the exclusions are earned income tax credit payments, child tax credit payments, and $30 of infrequent or irregular earned income. For a discussion of irregular and infrequent income, see our article When I Complete My SSI Application Form, It Asks Me to Declare My Income. Does All My Income Affect My SSI? There is also a $65-a-month earned income exclusion and a $20 general exclusion if you don’t have unearned income. Lastly, after all exclusions except blind expenses and income set aside for your Plan to Achieve Self-Support have been applied, half of the remaining earned income will be excluded.

Order in Which Exclusions Are Applied
Earned income exclusions are applied in the following order.

  • Earned income tax credit payments and child tax credit payments.
  • Up to $30 of earned income in a calendar quarter if it is infrequent or irregular.
  • The general exclusion of $20, if you do not have unearned income.
  • The $65 work exclusion
  • Earned income used to pay the Impairment-Related Work Expenses of a disabled, non-blind person.
  • One half of the remainder after all the exclusions.
  • Earned income used to pay blind work expenses.
  • Earned income used to fulfill an approved Plan to Achieve Self-Support.

If your earned income exclusions exceed your earned income, the unused exclusions cannot be applied to unearned income and cannot be carried forward for use in a future month.

Getting Back on SSI with Expedited Reinstatement
If your SSI benefits are terminated because of your work earnings and you become disabled from the same condition for which you originally received SSI and your recurrent disability begins within five years of the date your SSI ended, the Social Security Administration will expedite reinstatement of your benefits so that you can receive SSI payments while your claim is undergoing a disability review.

These provisional benefits include a Federal SSI payment that may be accompanied by Medicaid eligibility. They do not include state supplements. The provisional payments can continue for up to six months while your SSI and disability claim is pending. If the Social Security Administration decides that you are not eligible for benefits, usually they do not ask you to repay the provisional benefits.

Wage Reporting
Some earned income does not count toward the SSI income limits. However, even if income is excluded, the amount and source of the excluded income have to be reported and verified. That means that you will be asked to provide proof of the amount of your earned income and when it was paid as well as proof of any Impairment-Related Work Expenses and expenditures for your Plan to Achieve Self-Support. If you are participating in the Ticket to Work Program, you should also report your earnings to the vocational counselor who is assisting you.

Employee gross wages—the amount you earn before taxes and other deductions– must be reported to the Social Security Administration by the tenth day of the month following the month the wages were earned. For example, if you receive earnings in September, you must report the amount, the date, and the source by October 10. Failure to do so can result in underpayments, overpayments, and penalties. You must also report if you start or stop work, including starting or stopping a second or third job, or changing duties. If you are self-employed the Social Security Administration will provide you with instructions on how to report changes in your net income and net income estimates.

The Social Security Administration has devised a telephone system to make reporting wages quick and easy. If you qualify to use telephone reporting, you must report your previous month’s wages by the sixth of the month, not the tenth. The Social Security Administration will give you worksheets and instructions for reporting by phone.

Whose Wages Must Be Reported and Who Can Report Wages
You or your representative payee is responsible for reporting your wages and net earnings from self-employment and for reporting the earnings of anyone who deems income to you. The “deemors” can also report their own earnings. At each report, the caller will need to provide his or her Social Security number and name as it appears on his or her Social Security card and the Social Security number of the person receiving SSI.

In summary, in answer to your question about how to get SSI benefits and work, SSI law has included many provisions to help you work to your capacity and either continue to get SSI or to become financially independent.

I want to work. Can you tell me how to get SSI while working?
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  • Dear Michelle,

    The first $65 ($85 if work is the only income) and half of the excess above $65 is excluded and is not used in calculating benefits. Accordingly, only $742 of the earnings reduces the SSI.


  • Glenn Ledder

    My disabled daughter in Denver is currently paying $350 per month out of her $730 SSI payment to rent a bedroom from a family member, but she needs to move in April. Section 8 is out because you can only sign up for the lottery one day each year and then your chance of being picked is not much better than that of being struck by lightning. The cheapest efficiency apartment we can find is about $750 a month. A roommate won’t help because 2 people on SSI cannot afford $1200 per month for a 2-bedroom apartment. Am I correct that my giving her $400 per month will cut her SSI payment by the same amount? She could manage if she owned her own apartment, but I can’t afford to buy one. Are there any other alternatives besides moving to another city?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Glenn,

      If you give your daughter $400 a month, her SSI will be reduced by $380. If you pay the $400 directly to the landlord, her SSI will be reduced by $245.70 to $489.30 (2017 rates. The smaller reduction is due to a limit on the amount charged for in-kind (non-cash) support and maintenance (free food and/or shelter). Another alternative would be for your daughter to rent a room in a private home.


  • I’ve been on SSI for over 10 years when does my SSI turn into Social Security

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Maurice,

      Supplemental Security Income (SSI) never turns into Social Security. When you are about to turn age sixty-two, you will be required to apply for Social Security reduced retirement benefits if you have enough work credits to be insured for retirement benefits. Depending on the amount of your reduced retirement benefits, your SSI will either be reduced or terminated.


  • I have been on SSI for over 10 years if I go to work can I make without being penalize

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Maurice,

      You can earn $65 gross per month ($85 a month if you have no other income) without having a reduction in your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. For every two dollars over $65, your benefits will be reduced by $1. If your gross earnings reach $1,130, which is an earnings level that is usually considered Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), it is possible that your claim will be closed because you will no longer be considered disabled. Regardless of the amount you earn, report your work activity when you start and report your earnings each month.


  • roxana

    hi i just got approved for ssi im not working now due to my illness my question is what is it i have to report and do my children get approved as well for ssi …..also is there any programs to help me get a stable place to live,,,,,,,,,????

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Roxana,

      Supplemental Security Income (SSI) does not pay dependent benefits. If you also have been approved for SSDI, your children will receive benefits if your primary insurance amount (PIA), which is your benefit, is less than your Family Maximum Benefit (FMB). You can learn your PIA and FMB by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 after you have received an SSDI award letter for yourself.

      Regarding housing, check with your local county or state social services office about government subsidized housing. Usually there is a waiting list; so while you wait, you may need to use your back pay to pay for deposits and moving costs to get into housing you can afford.


  • Jhanea Miller

    Hi my name is Jhanea Miller I live in Louisiana I been getting SSI and Medicaid since I was a young kid I have autism I want to own my own business by selling it works products can I make $500. a month and still get my $733. SSI and Medicaid????

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jhanea,

      The first $85 of your work earnings will not reduced earnings; half of the amount above $85 will count to reduce benefits. If you profit $500 a month in your business, your SSI will be reduced by $207.50. You need to keep records of your income and business expenses and file tax returns to prove earnings. When you start the business, report to Social Security and give then an estimate of anticipated monthly profit.


  • marandia Ledbetter

    my son was getting ssi benefits living with his father, his father lied about his income and now owes the ssi almost all benefits received. My son will be 18 in Oct. and was wanting to know would he be able to apply for his benefits with out be penalized because of his father.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Marandia,

      I suggest that your son apply for benefits three months before he turns eighteen asking that the application be effective with his eighteenth birthday. I am uncertain whether he will be responsible for repayment because he was a minor. Even if he is, he can arrange to have only part of his benefits withheld to put towards the overpayment collection.


  • Stephanie Hunt

    I have been determined to be disabled by the University of Arizona Disability Determination Service in order to be eligible for DES Voc Rehab program. I am currently working at a sheltered workshop for my work experience, I’ve been there since September 2015 but I have such disabling lower back pain and weakness that I only work 3 days M W F a week as well as sometimes am not able to work all of my scheduled days due to asthma exasterbations, a bout with pnemonia put me out for 3 weeks, and chronic eye pain due to ocular pressure and grey blind spots in both eyes, sometimes they hurt so bad I just stay home and irrigate them and use brimodine drops, and chronic headaches. I have Graves disease and had I-131 treatment in 1998 and take thyroxine. Standing walking stooping and weightbearing activity causes hip pain and swollen aching sciatica that requires a day or two of bedrest and Tylenol in order to go back to work. I also have very low self esteem and depression issues partly due to alopecia totalis and my inability to be self sufficient. All of these problems are documented in my medical records except for most recent fasciitis starting to cripple my right hand and I am right handed and use it a lot at work. Now I am near the end of my work trial but my attendance has gradually gotten worse due to severity and number of symptoms increasing over the last 7 months. The plan was to graduate to another part time job but I don’t know any employers that would put up with chronic absenteeism, but I am afraid that I will also get denied my SSI claim then I will have no income but if they approve me I can continue to work at a sheltered workshop under a ticket to work. I just wish I had an advocate that gets that I want to work but I don’t know if my condition’s will get me approved. Most of the people I work with were on SSD before they started working there but my previous application was denied even though I couldn’t obtain a doable work position and just trying to go for a job that I knew wouldn’t last because I was unable would cause me to just throw my hands up and cry uncontrollably I am trying so hard but they make me feel like im just making all of this up. Only thing I can think why is cuz I have associate degree but that isn’t making my abilities any better. Confused?

    Stephanie hunt

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Stephanie,

      If you are still in the appeals period for your Social Security denial, I suggest that you file an appeal with the help of an experienced Social Security attorney. When you hire a Social Security attorney, you do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount your attorney can charge, and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your retroactive award before they send your back pay to you.


  • Donna

    My son gets SSI and has been offered an increase in hours at his job. How can I determine how many hours he can work before his SSI benefits are eliminated? If he loses SSI, can he still maintain his Medicaid? Thanks!!

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Donna,

      If your son has no other income, he can earn $1,549 per month and still be eligible for $1. If his SSI stops, he will not longer be eligible for Medicaid based on SSI eligibility. Depending on the state you live in, he might qualify for Medicaid based on other criteria. Also, if he applies within sixty days of losing the Medicaid, he can apply for insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and possible receive a subsidy to help pay for the premiums. More information is available at http://www.heathcare.gov.


  • dee

    I am on ssi but have just been approved for section 8 housing after 3 years waiting. The housing cost (room rental in a private dwelling) I have been bearing thus far will be replaced with section 8 funds. Will my ssi payment go down? If not, I was hoping to save for a car. But if I save more than 2000 I am over the resource limit. Is there anyway to avoid this?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Dee,

      Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will not be decreased because of Section 8 housing. You can save up to close to $2,000 and use it for a down payment on a car if the amount is not sufficient for the car you need. Then make the payments with the amount you would have continued to save each month. The car will not count as a resource.


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