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Work Incentives: SSI Only

Since SSI is based on need, SSA adjusts a person’s benefit amount based on the unearned and earned income they receive. There are income exclusions and other adjustments for people who are returning to work that help reduce countable income and maintain a higher benefit amount.

SSI Work Incentives

This article describes how a return to work can affect a person's benefit amount and when this change begins. SSA provides many exclusions and other adjustments for people returning to work that help maintain a higher benefit amount. This article also provides an overview of the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS).

Exclusions

When SSA determines the SSI benefit amount, they look at unearned income and earned income. SSA counts unearned income (e.g., TANF, alimony, state assistance, VA benefits) dollar for dollar and reduces the SSI check accordingly. Earned income is treated differently. There are income exclusions and calculations to determine the person’s countable income.

  • General exclusion: $20 (for everyone) per month
  • Earned income exclusion is for individuals who do not have any unearned income (e.g., TANF, alimony, state assistance, VA benefits); that is, their only income other than SSI comes from working.
    • The earned income exclusion is $65
  • When SSI is the person’s sole income, he or she is eligible for both exclusions, totaling $85 dollars.

Countable Income

After the exclusions are subtracted from the person’s earnings, SSA will count one dollar for every two dollars earned -- that is, they divide the remainder by two to determine countable income.

  • Individuals who receive SSI will often ask, “How much can I earn and still receive a check?”
  • In the example below, you can see how someone could earn $1,765 per month and yet receive an SSI check of $1 per month – this is important because it ensures continued Medicaid eligibility
  • SSA applies calculations to gross earnings (pre-tax and deductions)
  • SSA determines the new monthly benefit by subtracting the amount of countable income from the current monthly benefit
  • Beneficiaries must report their earnings each month and their benefit amount can change monthly based on what they earn
Calculating Countable Income: SSI
Gross Earnings From Work:

$1,765

General Exclusion:

($20)

Earned Income Exclusion:

($65)

Subtotal

$1,680

$1 Counted for Every $2 Earned:

$1,680/2

Countable Income:

= $840

Maximum SSI check – Countable Income:

$841*-$840

Amount of New SSI Check:

$1

Total Income:

$1,766

*Based on 2022 SSI Federal Benefit Rate

Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS)

The Plan to Achieve Self Support or “PASS” is only for SSI recipients. Generally, a person receiving SSI cannot save much money. If resources exceed the $2,000 limit (for individuals), he or she will no longer be eligible for SSI.

  • A PASS allows an individual to earn and save money for an educational or vocational goal
  • This money is set aside in a separate account
  • It does not count as a resource
  • It is excluded when calculating countable income
  • The PASS must be written and approved by SSA and must be reasonably attained within three years

SSI: PASS Example

A person may work part time as a line cook in a restaurant but would like to attend culinary school to qualify to work for a chef at a local hotel. The tuition for culinary school is $3,000. Saving for that tuition would put the person over the resource limits. A PASS helps and allows them to save that money.

PASS Example: SSI
Gross Earnings From Work:

$1,000

General Exclusion:

($20)

Earned Income Exclusion:

($65)

PASS Set-Aside ($100)
Subtotal

$815

$1 Counted for Every $2 Earned:

$815/2

Countable Income:

= $407.50

Maximum SSI check – Countable Income:

$841*-$407.50

Amount of New SSI Check:

$433.50

Total Income:

$1,433.50

*Based on 2022 SSI Federal Benefit Rate

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