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

Work Weary

Dear Weary,
A little pocket change is no problem. You can bring in $85 a month without a dent in benefits.  Above that, Social Security Administration (SSA) deducts $.50 for every dollar you make up to an income limit (which differs by state) above which you cannot qualify for 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 be reduced to $308.50. ($800 is $715 above the $85 “no-deduction” ceiling; $.50 for each of those dollars is $357.50. This amount, deducted from your usual $666 check, leaves you $308.50.) But you keep Medicaid even when SSI checks stop, as long as you still meet other disability and resource requirements and you earn less than your state’s threshold amount—ranging from about $19,000 to $45,000. Other work-in centiverules, including the deduction of work expenses related to physical impairments (e.g., special transportation needs), may help you stay within income limits and keep your Medicaid and SSI. The rules are different for Social Security Disability (SSDI): You either qualify for a full-check or you get nothing. SSDI work-incentive rules allow a nine-month trial work period (over 60 months) in which you can earn as much as you want without affecting your check. You then have another 36 months during which you may get SSDI depending on your monthly income. If SSA discovers an overpayment, you may have to pay it back.  The rules are complicated, so get qualified legal advice about how earnings could affect your benefits before clocking in.

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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