How to Earn Additional Income Without Losing SSI Benefits

Although Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients are subject to rigid asset limits, the federal government has provided a few avenues for beneficiaries to earn income that supplements their SSI benefit.

The Social Security Act imposes a $2,000 asset limit on SSI beneficiaries, a figure that has remained frozen since 1989. For couples, the limit is $3,000.  For 2018, the maximum monthly SSI benefit is $750, although many states provide a further supplement.

However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will not necessarily reduce the SSI benefit based on additional income. For each dollar earned above the monthly maximum amount, the SSA reduces the person’s monthly benefit by $0.50.  However, the SSA excludes a person’s first $85 in monthly earned income. Furthermore, SSI beneficiaries under age 22 or enrolled in school or a vocational training program can earn up to $1,790 in monthly income (up to $7,200 annually) without jeopardizing their SSI benefit or eligibility.

For other SSI beneficiaries looking to enter the workforce or return to work, the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) program may be an option for covering costs associated with job training or starting a business. Candidates for the program must submit applications to the SSA that detail their work goals, specify requested items and services and provide cost estimates, among other requirements.

If the SSA terminates a person’s benefits due to excessive earnings, an expedited recertification option exists for people who reapply within five years.

Another option for SSI recipients is the Ticket to Work program. The purpose of this program, which is available to both SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, is to provide a trial work period for beneficiaries without losing benefits.

Under this program, SSI beneficiaries can make more than $840 a month for nine months before their benefits are cut off. The nine months can either be consecutive or spread over a five-year period.

Assuming earnings continue after the trial period, benefits are cut off. But if a person’s earnings fall below this amount during the three years succeeding the trial period, benefits can be immediately restored.

For more information, click here to read the SSA’s pamphlet “Working While Disabled: How We Can Help.”

Three Big Differences Between SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are both federal programs that provide cash payments to people who meet the federal definition of “disabled.”  But the similarities between the two programs end there.  Here are the three main differences between them.

SSI Is a Means-Tested Program, SSDI Is an Entitlement Program

Although both SSI and SSDI are administered by the Social Security Administration, the two programs have vastly different financial requirements.  SSI is designed to meet the basic needs of elderly, blind and disabled individuals who would otherwise have a hard time paying for food and shelter.  Because SSI is narrowly tailored for this particular set of people, it has a very strict set of financial requirements, making it what is known as a “means-tested” benefit.

SSDI, by contrast, is an entitlement program that is typically available to any person who has paid into the Social Security system for at least ten years, regardless of his current income and assets.  (Younger beneficiaries and disabled adult children of retired or deceased workers may have to meet different requirements.)  In theory, all qualified workers are potential SSDI recipients, even high-income earners.

SSI Beneficiaries Typically Receive Medicaid, SSDI Provides Access to Medicare

In most cases, a person who receives SSI immediately qualifies for Medicaid benefits.  Because Medicaid is a joint state and federal health care program that typically provides very comprehensive coverage for its beneficiaries, many people may apply for SSI primarily because of the health care that comes with it.

On the other hand, SSDI beneficiaries are eligible to receive Medicare two years after they are deemed eligible for SSDI benefits.  Medicare is a federal health insurance program that covers routine hospital services and most but not all primary medical care.  Medicare is not as comprehensive as Medicaid, and many Medicare beneficiaries purchase what are known as private “Medigap” policies to fill in the holes in their primary Medicare coverage.

The Financial Benefits Can Be Very Different

Finally, SSI and SSDI benefits vary widely when it comes to the amount of money provided.  In 2018, the federal SSI payment standard will be $750 per month for an individual (with most states adding a small supplementary payment), while the average SSDI payment for 2017 is $1,171 a month.  Since SSDI is based on the beneficiary’s earnings record, some SSDI recipients can receive much more than this.  In addition, SSI benefits are reduced by any other income received by an SSI beneficiary, so many SSI recipients will receive less than the $750 payment standard.  In most cases, if a person receives an SSDI benefit that is higher than the maximum SSI payment, she won’t be eligible for SSI at all.