Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are means-tested programs; in order to qualify for benefits through these programs, an individual must meet very strict income guidelines.
People are generally only eligible for benefits if they are not able to engage in "substantial gainful activity." If an individual is able to earn income through working, it undermines the claim that the individual is disabled and in need of benefits.
In certain circumstances, however, individuals may be allowed to work and still receive SSI or SSDI benefits, under special rules known as "work incentives." These rules are established to help disabled beneficiaries who want to work, and to support them in these efforts without eliminating access to benefits.
Work incentives may help an individual receiving benefits enter, re-enter or remain in the workforce. The specific nature of the incentives available depends upon the type of benefits an individual receives. Some work incentives are relevant to both SSDI and SSI benefits recipients, while others are only relevant in limited circumstances.
For example, the SSA will exempt Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) when deciding whether a beneficiary is engaged in substantial gainful activity - certain costs incurred by performing work will be deducted from the individual's earnings for SSI or SSDI purposes.
Another example is that the SSA provides a trial period for those receiving SSDI benefits, so that a beneficiary can test his or her ability to work without losing benefits. During a trial work period, the individual will receive full benefits, regardless of the amount that person is able to earn by working.
For those seeking to take advantage of these work incentives, it is important to proceed with caution. These incentives seek to encourage work, but it is important to ensure compliance with the specific requirements. Before changing your work situation, speak with a knowledgeable SSD attorney.