What is a Social Security Disability work incentive?

The Social Security Administration provides financial assistance in the form of monthly cash benefits to those who meet the eligibility requirements. In order to qualify, applicants must be considered disabled, which means that they can no longer do the work they did previously and cannot adjust to other work. In determining whether a person is working, the SSA analyzes an applicant’s ability to perform “substantial gainful activity.” If applicants are earning more than a certain amount of money on a monthly basis, the SSA considers them to be performing substantial gainful activity, which disqualifies them from receiving SSD benefits.

The Social Security disability program does not want to discourage people from working, however, so it has created special rules called work incentives that help applicants who are working still qualify for benefits. There are many different categories of work incentives. Not all of them will apply to every applicant, however, because the work incentives are specific to particular situations.

One example of a work incentive that applies to both Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income is impairment related work expenses. This incentive deducts the cost of certain expenses-such as wheelchairs, transportation and specialized equipment necessary for work-that are related to a person’s specific impairment from the applicant’s earned income. After the cost of those impairment-related expenses is deducted, the SSA uses the remaining income amount to determine whether or not a person is performing substantial gainful activity and is eligible or ineligible for benefits.

Another category of work incentive is designated as “subsidies and special conditions.” In many situations, disabled workers receive certain supports on the job that enable them to complete the job requirements and responsibilities. Examples of subsidies and special conditions can include greater levels of supervision, being assigned fewer or simpler tasks than other workers in the same pay grade, or having the assistance of a job coach who helps with task completion. As a result of these supports, disabled workers may be receiving pay that is greater than the actual value of their services or work. The work incentive related to subsidies and special conditions deducts the value of these supports from the applicant’s pay before analyzing whether they are performing substantial gainful activity.

Source: Social Security Administration, “Work Incentives-Detailed Information,” last accessed Nov. 17, 2014