Benefits Empowerment

WID E3 offers benefits empowerment content to guide individuals on disability benefits in order to better navigate the system for improved outcomes. It also develops community-based public policy recommendations on work and benefits at state and national levels.

Topics covered in this section focus primarily on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) with recognition of adults who may also be receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Some of the related work incentives are detailed below:

  • Earned Income Exclusion and General Income Exclusion: Social Security does not count the first $65 of the earnings an individual receives in a month, plus one half of the remaining earnings. This means that we count less than one half of your earnings when we figure your SSI payment amount. Social Security applies this exclusion, in addition to the $20 general income exclusion. The $20 general income exclusion is first applied to any unearned income.
  • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) and Blind Work Expenses (BWE): Deduct the cost of certain impairment-related expenses needed to work from earnings when an individual is performing substantial work. Examples include wheelchairs, certain transportation costs, and specialized work-related equipment. BWE is earned income that a blind individual uses to meet the expenses of working. This income does not count when Social Security determines SSI eligibility and payment amount. The expenses do not need to be related to blindness and include earned income used to pay income taxes, meals consumed during work hours, transportation costs, or guide dog expenses.
  • Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE): For individuals under age 22 and regularly attending school, Social Security does not count up to $1,780 of earned income per month when determining SSI payment amount. The maximum yearly exclusion is $7,180. These amounts are for the year 2015; they may be adjusted each year based on the cost-of-living. Access Social Security’s SEIE Video to learn more.
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS): A Plan to Achieve Self-Support allows an individual to use income and/or things one owns to reach a work goal. For example, you can set aside money to go back to school or to get specialized training for a job or to start a business. Social Security does not count the money or resources set aside under an approved PASS when deciding an individual’s initial or continuing eligibility for SSI. Having a PASS may help someone qualify for SSI or may increase the amount of an SSI payment.  Learn more about PASS here.
  • Section 1619(a) and (b):  Section 1619(a) of the Supplemental Security law permits people to continue to receive an SSI payment while they work. Under Section 1619(b), an individual may continue to be eligible for Medicaid coverage. If a beneficiary is eligible under section 1619, they can receive a SSI cash benefit for up to 2 months while in a Medicaid facility or a public medical or psychiatric facility.
  • Medicaid Buy-In: The Medicaid Buy-In program continues to provide workers with disabilities an opportunity to improve their economic well-being and achieve a better life. Inspired through the independent living movement, the Medicaid Buy-In program is an optional State Medicaid benefit group for workers with disabilities who have earnings in excess of traditional Medicaid rules, so people with disabilities who would be ineligible for Medicaid because of earnings can work and access the services and supports they need. Ideally, it means workers with disabilities do not need to choose between healthcare and work.  Learn more about Medicaid Buy-In here.
  • Trial Work Period (adults): The trial work period allows an individual to test their ability to work for at least 9 months. During the trial work period, the individual will receive their full disability benefit regardless of how much they earn as long as the work activity has been reported and they continue to have a disabling impairment. The 9 months does not need to be consecutive, and their trial work period will last until an accumulated 9 months within a rolling 60-month period. Certain other rules apply.
  • Ticket to Work: Social Security’s Ticket to Work Program is a free and voluntary program available to people ages 18 through 64 who are blind or have a disability and who receive SSDI or SSI benefits. Visit the Ticket to Work site to learn more.
  • Reinstating Eligibility without a New Application: If an individual has not been eligible for an SSI benefit for 12 months or less, they do not have to file a new application to reinstate SSI cash payments or Medicaid coverage.

Disability Benefits 101

Disability Benefits 101 (DB101) provides community outreach, training, and web-based services that support employment in Alaska, Arizona, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio. Each state’s website has benefits and work calculators, along with current information on health coverage, employment, and benefits that job seekers and workers with disabilities can use to plan employment.

In states where DB101 exists, trainings on how to best utilize the website to better understand the relationship between government and work are offered.

Click on the linked image below to go to the DB101 homepage where it will prompt you to choose your state from a checklist of the states mentioned above.

Link to the DB101 website; image of the homepage of the DB101 website, featuring the states listed out and a smiling woman in a wheelchair

A big thanks to WID’s DB101 partners, Eightfold Way Consultants and ECONorthwest!

To learn more about WID E3 Benefits Empowerment content or to schedule a training session, contact Paul Hippolitus, WID’s Director of the Employment and Disability Benefits Initiative, at

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