Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE)

Can Let You Work and Still Receive Social Security Disability Benefits

12029586_sMany of our clients are precluded from working in their full-time occupation because of their injury or illness, but still try to perform some type of part-time or limited work either before their benefits are approved, or after their benefits have been granted. However, they often fear that by working, they may lose their ability to be approved disability benefits, or, if they are currently receiving payments, they fear that their work efforts will cause termination of their benefits. In many instances, these individuals may only be working to *test* their ability to return to any meaningful employment, or in some cases, they are only working on a sporadic basis. Social Security regulations, in fact, encourage people to return to the work force by offering several incentives. Among them, is the ability to use some of their earnings as impairment-related work expenses (IRWE), in order to reduce their income to an amount that will allow them to still qualify for benefits while they are working or attempting to work.

How Does The Deduction From Countable Income Work?

Impairment-related work expenses are the additional costs of specific items or services that many individuals with disabilities need in order to be able to work. These items can include payments for prescribed medications or medical treatment needed for their disabling impairment. These items may also include payments for some transportation costs, vehicle modification, attendant care services, residential modification, etc.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will deduct the cost of any of these qualifying items from the gross earnings of disabled working individuals when deciding if their “countable earnings” are under, or above, the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount. In 2013, a person earns over the SGA levels if he or she receives more than $1,040.00 of gross earnings per month.

The IRWE Deductions Can Also Aid in SSI Financial Qualification

In addition to being a work incentive, IRWE is also used to assist individuals who are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability payments, because IRWE deductions reduce some of their income in order for them to meet the SSI federal income test. The SSA also excludes IRWE from their earned income when SSA figures SSI monthly payment amounts.

What Expenses Are Deductible?

The SSA deducts IRWE in determining substantial gainful activity for purposes of the Social Security disability program when:

  1. The item or service enables a person to work;
  2. The disabled individual requires use of the item or service due to their impairment;
  3. The disabled individual paid the cost, and he or she is not reimbursed by another source (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance);
  4. The cost is “reasonable”—that is, it represents the standard charge for the item or service in the community; and
  5. The disabled individual paid the expense in a month in which he or she was working, except that the cost of durable goods purchased during the eleven months before he or she started working may be spread over some months of work activity using an SSA formula. Also, SSA’s rules allow an IRWE deduction for an expense paid in the month after work ended to be applied during the last month of work.

For the SSI program, SSA deducts IRWE when SSA figures SSI payment amounts when requirements 1 through 4 above are met and the disabled individual paid the expense in a month in which he or she received earned income or performed work while he or she used the impairment-related item or service.

If you have a case where the IRWE incentive can be used, your representative will need you to provide records that will document your expenses. Your representative will need to carefully review SSA’s impairment-related work expense rules because some expenses you wouldn’t expect are included (such as payment for treatment that you would need to pay whether you work or not) and some expenses that you might expect to qualify are excluded (such as payment for health insurance).

Please call LaPorte Law Firm if you have any questions about IRWE, or the effect of your work on potential eligibility for SSA disability benefits.

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