If We IRWE: Earn More, Keep Benefits

April 17, 2018

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE, pronounced "ur wĕ") are a work incentive category that people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can use to reduce the earned income that Social Security counts for eligibility.  The expenses, which must be approved by the Social Security Administration, must cover items and services that :   1.  You require to work

    2.  You need because of your disability or a related condition

    3.  You pay for out-of-pocket without any reimbursement from any third party

    4.  Have a reasonable cost.

 

 IRWE can include things like the training and care of a service animal, the cost of special transportation, or the purchase of a wheelchair, or mobility aid, special clothes or communication devices.  It can include therapies and medicines, if not covered by insurance and if, without them, you would be unable to work.  For the examples below, let's consider that you it costs you $300/month to care for your service dog, an average of $50/month to service your power chair and $8/($160/month) to take para-transit to and from your place of employment.  To get these expenses  approved as IRWE, bring to the Social Security office an itemized explanation that includes the cost of each, with comparatives to demonstrate that the cost is reasonable and a clear explanation how the item or service relates to your disability and  why it is necessary for you to have that item or use that service if you are to work. Once IRWE have been approved, they can be applied every month.  If you have a one-time expense, you can either request that it be considered IRWE in the month of purchase or spread the cost out over several months, provided the item is in use during each of the months when its cost is expensed.

 

Once your IRWE have been presented to and approved by Social Security, their deduction can help you in two ways.  First, Social Security will deduct your IRWE before considering whether you are performing Substantial Gainful Activity, which is defined as earning $1,180/month gross (2018).  You must work below SGA to maintain your eligibility for either SSI or SSDI.  If you earn $1,500/month, you would ordinarily disqualify yourself from disability benefits but taking into account IRWE of $510, only $990 of that income is countable and you still make the cut.

 

SSI recipients get double the bang for their buck.  Since SSI is public aid, or welfare, your benefits are reduced by 50 cents for every $1 you earn over $85 ($65 if you have unearned income).  If you earned $1,100 before considering IRWE,  their is no doubt that you qualify for SSI, but you would only receive $242/month due to the 50-cents-on-the-dollar reduction of your benefit.  If, however, you have the above approved IRWE, Social Security will only count $590 of your monthly earnings and you will receive an SSI monthly payment of $497.  IRWE is only one of several work incentives, but perhaps the most straightforward one to apply.  Take full advantage of this avenue to keep more of your SSI even as you pay more -out-of-pocket to achieve a higher degree of independence and earnings.

 

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