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Returning to work: How SSI benefits are affected

Individuals who are aged 65 or older, are blind or are otherwise disabled may qualify for a helpful federal benefit commonly referred to as SSI. Supplemental Security Income can help qualified individuals with limited income make their ends meet. However, not everyone on SSI must be so aged or otherwise disabled that they cannot work. Many SSI recipients either work and receive benefits or continue to receive benefits once they are able to return to work in some capacity.

In fact, SSI recipients in particular are encouraged to work if they are able. However, their income must fall within certain guidelines if they are to continue receiving benefits while simultaneously earning a paycheck. In general, recipients will not lose any of their SSI benefits for the first 12 months that they return to the workforce, regardless of how much income they earn.

This allowance can truly permit SSI recipients to maximize their full working potential without fear of losing benefits that they have come to depend upon. However, after this 12 month grace period, a mathematical balance is struck between income earned and benefits received.

If a SSI recipient earns enough income on his or her own after the 12 month grace period, benefit checks will likely be discontinued. However, if the recipient only makes a certain amount, he or she may be able to continue receiving benefits while earning a minimal living.

In addition, it is important to note that if at any time in the first five years of returning to work an individual’s injury or illness worsens and subsequent income decreases, that person will qualify for an expedited reinstatement of SSI benefits. This allows individuals to begin receiving benefits again without having to reapply via the initial complicated and time-consuming application process.

Source: Center for American Progress, “The Facts on Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income for Workers with Disabilities,” Shawn Fremstad and Rebecca Vallas, May 30, 2013

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