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Methods for Preserving Benefits

Social Security has several programs, called Work Incentives, that reduce the impact of working on disability benefits. Below is information on some of the major work incentives. For further information on any of these work incentives, contact your local Social Security office, or check the Social Security web site (

Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE)

  • IRWEs are expenses for items and services a disabled person needs in order to work.
  • Examples of items that may qualify as an IRWE include: attendant care services, transportation costs, job coaching, medical devices, adaptive equipment, medication, psychological evaluations, and therapy.
  • The local Social Security office determines whether a particular expense is deductible as an IRWE.
  • The expense must be paid for by the individual, and not reimbursed from another source.
  • The cost of the expense is deducted from the amount of earnings reported to Social Security. For instance, if a person earns $450 but spends $50 on job coaching, Social Security would only count $400 of earnings.

Plan For Achieving Self-Support (PASS)

PASSs allow an individual to qualify, maintain or increase their monthly SSI benefits by setting aside income (including SSDI) for expenses to achieve a vocational goal.

  • Income set aside is excluded from the monthly income determination for SSI purposes, and also does not count towards the $2,000 limit on assets ($3,000 for couples). This means that using a PASS may allow an individual to qualify for SSI.
    • An individual on SSDI can use a PASS to set aside their SSDI income, thus qualifying them for SSI
  • The types of things that a PASS plan can cover include education and training classes, job coaching, transportation, initial costs for purchase of a vehicle, clothing for a job, items to start a business, equipment to do a job, etc.
  • A PASS plan is time limited, although there is no specific time limits. Typically PASSs are approved in 18 month increments.
  • Financially, a PASS is better than an IRWE, but IRWEs are not time-limited and cover a wider range of expenses.
  • If a One-Stop has a structure where individuals can pay for intensive or training services, a PASS could potentially pay for these services.
  • There is a ten page application form for PASSs (forms are available from the Social Security web site and offices). PASS plans are sent to the local office, which passes them on to the central office for review.
    • Teams of specialists, called "PASS Cadres," are available to help prepare applications (a listing of which can be obtained by contacting the Social Security Administration or looking on the SSA web site).

Student Earned Income Exclusion

If an individual on SSI is a student under the age of 22, he/she can exclude up to $1,340 in earnings in a month. The maximum annual exclusion is $5,410 (2003 figures). These amounts are adjusted annually for inflation.

Blind Work Expenses

If a person receives SSI and is blind, expenses needed to earn income (not necessarily related to the disability) can be excluded from the income determination for SSI purposes. Examples of these expenses: transportation to and from work; federal and state income taxes; Social Security taxes; union dues; translation of materials into Braille; guide dog expenses; etc.

Written by:

Institute for Community Inclusion