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Promoting Work Among Youth Who Receive Benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA)

Why does it matter if a youth receives SSA benefits?
For many beneficiaries, these programs are confusing and misinformation may undermine their career goals. Many youth and adults with disabilities qualify for benefits and related health insurance through the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSA administers two cash benefit programs for people with disabilities: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Understanding how these programs and related health care are impacted by earnings can help beneficiaries to maximize the work incentives available and work toward greater independence.

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the nation’s primary long-term disability insurance program.  Generally a young adult with a disability might be eligible for a share of a retired, deceased or disabled parent’s Social Security, under “Childhood Disability Benefits” (CDB).  There are specific work incentives applicable to SSDI, as well as work incentives that are common to both SSI and SSDI.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is payable to adults or children who are “disabled or blind, have limited income and resources, meet the living arrangement requirements.” The monthly SSI amount includes a federal benefit rate ($771 CY ‘19) plus a PA state supplement ($22.10). The design of the SSI program is such that a beneficiary is obligated each month to report changes in earned and unearned income, so that the SSI amount is properly adjusted.

How is the SSI benefit impacted by working?
The SSI program is much more generous towards someone who is earning income vs. someone who is receiving additional unearned income.  Following disregards, the SSI cash payment would generally be reduced $.50 for every $1 of earnings.  For students who are developing money management skills, tracking SSI payments and payroll is a great activity.

As a general observation, SSI is a work friendly program. The SSI beneficiary who works may have a reduced SSI payment, but will have significantly greater monthly income. In 2019, an SSI beneficiary who receives the standard SSI, excluding state supplement, with no unearned income or specific work incentives would need a monthly employment income of least $1,627 in order to have their SSI reduced to $0. Furthermore, the beneficiary would need to earn an annual salary of $38,431 (2019 PA Medicaid Threshold) in order to have earnings that result in termination.
If the youth is receiving SSI benefits prior to age 18, does the individual continue to receive benefits when they turn 18?
When a child (<18) receives SSI, SSA will conduct a “re-determination” to see if the individual can continue to qualify under adult standards. If the young adult is working, this will not be a reason for benefits to be terminated.  If a young adult is terminated because SSA believes the impairment no longer qualifies, this individual can maintain eligibility through completion of an approved educational or vocational program.

Why does a student need to report earnings to SSA?
The program requires all individuals to report monthly changes in income.  There are no exceptions.  The best method of reporting earnings is by mailing paystubs with a standard cover letter to the local SSA office.

What happens if a SSI student who is working starts to save money?
The traditional approach has been to simply discourage individuals from saving more than $2,000 in order to maintain eligibility for SSI and Medicaid and/or establish a special needs trust.  As an excellent alternative, a working beneficiary could voluntarily leave the SSI program and acquire Medicaid through Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD).  Doing do will increase an individual’s savings limit of $10,000 through MAWD. 

An individual could also channel excess resources into a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) or a PA ABLE savings program. 

  • A PASS is an SSI provision to help individuals with disabilities return to work. It allows eligible individuals to set aside money and things owned to pay for items or services necessary to achieve a work goal.
  • A PA ABLE account gives individuals with qualified disabilities (Eligible Individuals), and their families and friends, a tax-free way to save for disability-related expenses, while maintaining government benefits. Federal and state law authorized the creation of PA ABLE accounts.

For more information about how to promote work among youth with SSA benefits, visit www.ahedd.org, call 866-902-4333 ext. 90197, and/or email ssaworkincentives@ahedd.org.

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