Image of someone holding a pen and using a calculatorOur monthly blog series, Work Incentives Wednesdays, explores how Social Security helps people with disabilities transition to work. In this month’s blog post, learn how Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) can help you afford the items and services you need for success.

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Work Incentives Wednesdays: Impairment-Related Work Expenses

Mar 22, 2017

Image of someone holding a pen and using a calculatorOur monthly blog series Work Incentives Wednesdays can answer many of your questions about working and your Social Security disability benefits by exploring special rules called Work Incentives. This month, we talk about Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE).

What are impairment-related work expenses?

IRWEs are the costs associated with certain items and services you need to work. They apply to all SSDI beneficiaries and to SSI beneficiaries. To learn more about Work Incentives for people who are blind, download Social Security Work Incentives for People who are Blind.

While IRWEs need to be used for work, the items and services can also be used in daily living. For example, a wheelchair that you use at your workplace may count as an IRWE even though you also use it at home and when you are not working.

Other examples may include medicine, disability-related changes to your home or vehicle, or costs for a service animal. IRWEs may also be out-of-pocket expenses such as medical supplies and doctor visits.

How IRWEs affect your disability benefits

If you receive SSDI, Social Security will deduct the cost of IRWEs from your gross earnings when deciding if your work is substantial gainful activity (SGA).  Social Security uses the term "substantial gainful activity" to describe a level of work activity and earnings and to help determine your eligibility for SSDI or SSI. Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. Work activity does not need to be performed on a full-time basis to be substantial — part-time work may also be SGA.

For 2017, SGA is defined as earnings of $1,170 per month for someone who is not blind and $1,950 per month for someone who is blind. Both SGA amounts are subject to change.

Social Security deducts IRWE for SGA purposes when:

  • The item(s) or service(s) enable you to work;
  • You need the item(s) or service(s) because of a physical or mental impairment;
  • You pay for the item(s) or service(s) and are not reimbursed by another source such as Medicare, Medicaid or a private insurance carrier; and
  • The cost is "reasonable," that is, it represents the standard charge for the item or service in your community.

If you receive SSI disability benefits, Social Security will exclude IRWEs from your earned income when they figure your monthly payment amount if:

  • You meet the requirements above, and
  • You paid the expense in a month that you received earned income or performed work while using the IRWE.

Earnings from work may affect the amount of your monthly SSI payment. But because IRWEs reduce the amount of your "countable income," you may be able to keep more of your SSI payment while you work. Here’s an example of how IRWEs affect your benefits:

Ellen Jones receives SSI benefits because she has a disability. She works and earns $1,025 a month, which is the only income she receives. She has the following work expenses:

  • She pays $125 a month for union dues and insurance; and
  • She pays $250 a month to a special transportation service that she needs to get to and from work because of her disabling condition.

Although Ms. Jones has work expenses of $375 a month, only the $250 of her earnings, which she uses to pay for the special transportation service, are related to her impairment. Because they  are considered IRWE, the amount is deducted from her countable earnings and are not counted in determining the amount of her SSI benefit as follows:

$1,025 – $20 (general exclusion) = $1,005
$1,005 – $65 (work exclusion) = $940
$  940 – $250 (impairment–related work expense) = $690
$  690 / 2 = $345 (SSA only counts 50% of your earnings)
$  345 = countable earnings

IRWEs and Other Work Incentives

To learn more about IRWEs and other Work Incentives, visit or one of the following resources:

Social Security’s Red Book
Choose Work blog: Meet Your Employment Team: WIPA Projects and PABSS Organizations
Meet Your Employment Team

About Ticket to Work

Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work.
The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

Learn More

To learn more about the Ticket program, visit You can also call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 866-968-7842 or 866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

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