Heading North on my travels, I decided to stop on Mactan Island in the Philippines to admire the statue of Lapu Lapu. Fortunately, I found an internet cafe nearby to check for questions.
I’ve been getting SSDI for over four years now and my benefit is about $1,100. Last year I started working at a job from home. I started out earning around $500 gross a month and went up to $800 after a few months. I let SSA (Social Security Administration) know about my work and how much I earn, and I have been keeping track of my earnings. I have used all nine of my trial work period months, but have not reached the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level of earnings yet ($1,070 this year, 2014).
I will soon have the opportunity to increase my earnings to around $1,200 or more a month. Given my disability and the kind and amount of work that the company requires to earn that higher amount, I’ll need to buy some special software, a couple pieces of hardware, and a better and more expensive data connection for my computer. I’m willing to do this even though it’ll be costly and I’ll have to pay for all of it myself over time. But, I’m hesitant about going ahead since it means my benefits would stop a couple of months after I earn that much. Any ideas about what I can do?
Jill, Browntown, WI
The costs you have for the special computer equipment that you need may possibly qualify as Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE). This means that SSA would subtract the costs from your gross earnings when you reach the SGA level. For example, if in any month you pay $150 for those items and services and your gross wages are $1,200, SSA will subtract $150 from $1,200 and count just $1,050 as your earned income, which is below the current SGA level of $1,070. Since you have not earned SGA yet, your benefits will not be ceased as long as your countable earnings stay below SGA. For a beneficiary whose benefits have already ceased due to SGA and who is in the 36 month Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), a benefit would be payable in any month with countable earnings below SGA.
To qualify as an IRWE the cost of an item or a service must be needed to enable a beneficiary to work, must be directly related to the beneficiary’s impairment, be paid for by the beneficiary (not reimbursed), and be reasonable (the standard charge in the community).
Normally an IRWE is used to offset the earnings in the month in which the expense has incurred; however, if a beneficiary makes one large payment, SSA may allow the IRWE deduction to be spread out over 12 months. If money is borrowed for a purchase (loan or credit card), SSA will deduct the actual payment made each month as an IRWE. SSA determines what expenses can be deducted after they are incurred based on the evidence and documentation provided by the beneficiary although prior consultation with an SSA representative is an option. (POMS DI 10520.001)
Here is a link to information about IRWEs on the SSA internet site: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/redbook/eng/ssdi-and-ssi-employments-supports.htm#a0=2
You may also contact a Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) who can answer questions about and may assist you with IRWEs through the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/work/WIPA.html