I’ve been on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for years because myvirus makes me too tired for regular work. But I think I could handle ashort gig for some holiday cash. Would that endanger my disabilitybenefits?

Work Weary

Dear Weary,
Alittle pocket change is no problem. You can bring in $85 a monthwithout a dent in benefits.  Above that, Social SecurityAdministration (SSA) deducts $.50 for every dollar you make up to anincome limit (which differs by state) above which you cannot qualifyfor SSI.  Say your SSI benefits are $666 each month, and you earn$800 one month from a temp job. Your SSI check for that month would bereduced to $308.50. ($800 is $715 above the $85 “no-deduction” ceiling;$.50 for each of those dollars is $357.50. This amount, deducted fromyour usual $666 check, leaves you $308.50.) But you keep Medicaid evenwhen SSI checks stop, as long as you still meet other disability andresource requirements and you earn less than your state’s thresholdamount—ranging from about $19,000 to $45,000. Other work-incentiverules, including the deduction of work expenses related to physicalimpairments (e.g., special transportation needs), may help you staywithin income limits and keep your Medicaid and SSI. The rules aredifferent
for Social Security Disability (SSDI): You eitherqualify for a full-check or you get nothing. SSDI work-incentive rulesallow a nine-month trial work period (over 60 months) in which you canearn as much as you want without affecting your check. You then haveanother 36 months during which you may get SSDI depending on yourmonthly income.  If SSA discovers an overpayment, you may have topay it back.  The rules are complicated, so get qualified legaladvice about how earnings could affect your benefits before clockingin.

Catherine Hanssens, JD,
Founded the Center for HIV Law and Policy.  Her column offers general guidance and shouldn't substitute for a lawyer's council.

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