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Protecting SSI benefits when trying to get back to work

New Jersey residents who meet the requirements to get Supplemental Security Income benefits will frequently have the ability and the desire to try and get back into the workforce. A sticking point that can prevent them from following through on that desire is the fear that they will lose their SSI benefits and either not be able to get them again or need to wait a long time to get them. The Social Security Administration accounts for this by providing certain work incentives for people receiving SSI.

With work incentives, the risk of losing SSI and Medicaid is reduced. With Earned Income Exclusion, the first $65 the person earns plus half of whatever surpasses $65 will not be counted when SSI is calculated. When SSI is reduced based on income, it will only be lowered by $1 for every $2 earned beyond $65. Student Earned Income Exclusion allows students under age 22 to exclude up to $1,790 per month. For 2017, the limit was $7,200 per calendar year. These amounts can change from year to year, so it is important to keep track of changes as they are announced.

A disabled person might need to pay for certain items to be able to work. These are impairment-related work expenses. It can be excluded from earned income if they are paid out-of-pocket. The cost must be deemed "reasonable." Whether the items are also used for non-work activities is irrelevant. A person who is getting SSI due to blindness can have money spent for work deducted from the earned income calculation. For example, if the person needs transportation to and from work, this can be deducted.

Getting SSI benefits does not and should not prevent a capable and willing person from trying to get back into the workforce. The SSA accounts for those who are getting SSI and would like to work. However, it is crucial for people who are getting SSI benefits and would like to work to know the limits on their income and what can be counted in terms of work incentives. A lawyer who is knowledgeable about Supplemental Security Income can help with a case.

Source: ssa.gov, "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Work Incentives," accessed on Jan. 30, 2018

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