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Tools to Reduce Countable Income

Case Study 1: Jordan’s IRWE

Person sitting in a wheelchair while using a computerJordan uses a wheelchair because of their disability. They work and earn $1,750 gross per month. To get to and from work, Jordan uses a wheelchair van service provided as “paratransit services” by the county’s regional public transportation company. Jordan pays $330 per month for this service ($15/day x 22 workdays).

Jordan understands that their $330 monthly payment for paratransit qualifies as an IRWE because it meets all the required criteria:

  • Jordan paid for the service and will not be reimbursed
  • The need for the service is directly related to their disabling condition
  • The service enables Jordan to work by providing transportation in their wheelchair
  • This is the customary rate for the service in Jordan’s community

Jordan wonders how reporting the IRWE expense to SSA will affect their countable income and SSDI status.

Think about it. What needs to happen?

Jordan does the math and finds that the $330 transportation IRWE reduces their countable earnings to $1,420 per month ($1,750 – $330). Because their countable earnings are below the SGA level of $1,550, they still qualify for an SSDI payment. Jordan consults with their benefits planner to confirm the reasoning and get advice on the best way to report the IRWE.

The takeaway

For many SSDI beneficiaries, the IRWE is an important way to lower countable earnings.

Case Study 2: Sharon’s Job Coach

Person outsideSharon, an SSDI beneficiary with a learning disability, works at a grocery store. She is paid $13 per hour and has gross earnings of $1,560 per month. Her primary job duties include keeping cashier stations stocked with grocery bags, bagging groceries, assisting customers with getting groceries into vehicles, and bringing shopping carts from the parking lot to the store.

The ABC Agency provides her with 20 hours of on-site job coaching services per month. Her coach models each of her job duties to show how the job is done and corrects any challenges observed. Her coach also reinforces appropriate ways to communicate with co-workers, her supervisor, and customers.

Sharon has heard that having a job coach will lower her countable income, but she is not sure how that might affect her SSDI payment.

Think about it. What needs to happen?

Sharon realizes that having a lower countable income will improve her chances of continuing to qualify for SSDI. She fills out, and has her employer fill out, the necessary forms. SSA evaluates her situation and decides to value the job coach Subsidy at $260 per month (20 hours multiplied by Sharon’s $13 hourly wage).

Knowing this information allows Sharon to do the math. Her Subsidy reduces her countable monthly wage to $1,300 ($1,560 – $260), which is less than the 2024 SGA level of $1,550 per month. Sharon will still qualify for an SSDI payment.

The takeaway

The effort to get SSA to approve a Subsidy can be very worthwhile. The approved Subsidy may lower countable income and allow the beneficiary to earn wages from work while receiving an SSDI payment.

Case Study 3: Abdul’s Subsidy

Person using phoneAbdul is in his SSDI Extended Period of Eligibility and works in a nursing home as a janitor. He earns $1,600 gross per month and has already completed his Cessation Month and Grace Period. Because his gross earnings are over the 2024 SGA level of $1,550, he is not currently receiving an SSDI payment.

His duties are like those of other janitors, but because of his disability, he works more slowly. His supervisor prefers to assign him the least challenging areas to clean and very often reminds him of tasks that he forgot. Abdul’s vocational counselor works with Abdul and his employer to establish a Subsidy that accurately reflects Abdul’s situation.

Initially, the employer reports to SSA only what Abdul’s duties are and the hours he works. Abdul’s vocational counselor, after consulting with his benefits planner, works with the employer to get all the information above on a letter to SSA. The employer, however, declines to assign a value to any Subsidy. In submitting the letter to SSA, the vocational counselor references POMS DI 10505.010 A.3. and urges SSA to find a Subsidy of 30% ($480) based on a clearer picture of Abdul’s work situation.

Abdul wonders if this 30% Subsidy will allow him to once again receive an SSDI check.

Think about it. What needs to happen?

Abdul asks his benefits planner to go over the details with him. Because SSA has agreed to the 30% Subsidy, it is now possible to do the math: Abdul’s countable wages are $1,120 per month ($1,600 - $480), less than the 2024 SGA level of $1,550. Abdul will now qualify for an SSDI payment.

The takeaway

Subsidy is an important SSDI-related work incentive. By lowering countable income, a Subsidy may allow SSDI payments to continue.