Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) are expenses that a person with a disability pays to go to work. The cost of an IRWE can be subtracted from countable earnings when calculating a SSI or SSDI beneficiary’s eligibility for benefits.

IRWEs include:

  • Attendant Care
  • Transportation Costs
  • Work Related Equipment and Assistants
  • Prosthesis to enable employment
  • Residential Modifications
  • Routine Drugs & Medical Services
  • Diagnostic Procedures
  • Cost of service dogs, dog food, licenses, and veterinary services.

An IRWE deduction must meet the following criteria. Expenses must be:

  • necessary for the person to work;
  • related to the person’s disability;
  • paid for by the person and not be reimbursable from other sources;
  • paid in a month in which the person is working; and
  • reasonable.

How do IRWEs affect SSI benefits?

Deducting the cost of the IRWE from monthly gross wages reduces the amount of countable earnings used to figure the SSI check due. Up to half the cost of the IRWE can be recovered by the beneficiary in the form of a higher SSI payment.

Example: Keith previously received an SSI benefit check of $710 per month in 2013. After beginning a part-time job, he is earning $500 a month in work income. After applying the SSI Income Formula, his SSI benefit is adjusted to $502.50 a month. This gives him a total monthly income of $1002.50 a month.

Keith pays $200 a month in co-payments for physical therapy. After getting these expenses approved as an IRWE by Social Security, and applying the SSI Income Formula, his SSI benefit is instead adjusted to $602.50 a month. This gives him a total monthly income of $1102.50.

Refer to SSI Income Formula for more information.

How do IRWEs affect SSDI benefits?

For SSDI beneficiaries, deducting an IRWE may keep gross monthly earnings below the eligibility limit, allowing them to continue receiving a benefit check.

IRWEs cannot be used during the Trial Work Period. IRWEs can be used during the Extended Period of Eligibility and afterward.

Example: Haruko earns $1,100 a month from her job. She pays $100 a month in co-payments for prescription medication. After reporting her medication expenses to Social Security and getting them approved as an IRWE, her countable income is reduced to $1,000 a month. This puts her income below the current eligibility limit of $1,040 a month, allowing her to continue receiving a benefits check.

How are large non-recurring IRWEs deducted?

A beneficiary can choose to deduct an IRWE in two ways:

  • Immediately when purchased.
  • In installments over a period of up to 12 months.

For large one-time purchases, such as home modifications, it can be more beneficial to deduct them over a long period of time. For example, instead of reducing countable income to zero in one month, an SSDI beneficiary could use a large IRWE to reduce their countable income below the eligibility limit for a year.