Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Common Pitfalls

Not knowing which Social Security benefits you get

Social Security has two disability benefits programs with very similar names:

Some people qualify for both programs at the same time. If you get benefits from Social Security, but aren’t sure which ones you get, open a free my Social Security account or order a free Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

New Jersey also has a disability benefits program called Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI). It gives short-term monthly payments to people who have to stop working due to an illness, injury, or pregnancy. Learn more about TDI.

Not giving enough information when you apply

When you apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the decision can take a long time. You don’t want Social Security to deny your application because of some missing piece of information. Make sure you include contact information for all doctors, physical therapists, and others who have treated you for your disability.

However, you also want to apply as soon as you can, because if you are approved for SSI you will be paid your benefits for the entire time back to the date you applied. If you don’t have everything ready when you apply, that’s OK — go ahead and apply with as many details as you can, but be sure to send any missing information as quickly as possible.

Waiting too long to file an appeal

If you disagree with a decision Social Security makes, you can file an appeal:

  • File your appeal quickly. After you get a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) denial letter, you have 60 days to file an appeal. If you don’t appeal within 60 days, you may not be able to appeal.
  • If you were already getting SSI benefits and are appealing a change in your benefits amount or an overpayment notice, you should appeal within 10 days. If you do, you might keep getting the same SSI benefits amount until Social Security decides on your appeal.
  • Note: Social Security figures that you get a letter within five days after they sent it.

Learn more about appeals.

Contact Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) for help with appeals.

Not working because you think you’ll lose benefits you need

Many people who get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are afraid to work because they think they’ll lose their SSI benefits and automatic Medicaid coverage. However, SSI’s rules are designed to make work possible.

When you work, SSI’s earned income exclusion means that you get to keep at least your first $65 in earned income each month without lowering your SSI benefits at all. After that, every dollar of earnings only lowers your SSI benefits amount by fifty cents, so you usually end up with more money than you would if you weren’t working.

If you earn enough for your SSI benefits to go down to zero, you may be able to keep your Medicaid coverage through SSI’s 1619(b) rule or through Medicaid's New Jersey WorkAbility program. Even if you lose your Medicaid, you should either become eligible for employer-sponsored coverage or private individual coverage. And, if you can't afford the individual coverage, the government may help you pay for it through tax credits.

Try DB101's Finding the Right Health Coverage for You interactive guide.

If you stop getting SSI benefits and then your job doesn’t work out, you may be able to get back on SSI benefits quickly through quick benefits restart or Expedited Reinstatement (EXR), as long as you still have a disability and meet other SSI rules.

The bottom line: Most people on SSI who go back to work end up with more money.

Not documenting work expenses

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) or Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) are expenses related to your disability that support your work. Social Security subtracts these expenses from your countable income when calculating your benefits amount. This means you get higher SSI benefits.

You must have receipts or cancelled checks for all IRWEs or BWEs, otherwise Social Security will not subtract them from your countable income. Make sure you always get receipts for all work expenses and file them with Social Security.

If you have any questions about IRWEs and BWEs or about how to tell Social Security about them, talk with a Benefits Planner.

Not reporting changes in income, resources, or living situation

If your earned income, unearned income, resources, marital status, or living arrangements change, even slightly, you must report the change twice:

  • To your local county Board of Social Services within 10 days of when the change happens.
  • To Social Security at the start of the month after the change. You can report:
    • In person, by phone, or by fax during the first 10 days of the next month.
    • Using the SSI Telephone Reporting System, the SSI reporting app, or my Social Security during the first 6 days of the next month.

If you don't report these changes, you may have to pay back the overpayment.

Ways to report your income to Social Security

For SSI, you can report changes:

When you report, you’ll need to have documentation, such as a letter explaining any changes and copies of your paystubs. If you have questions about the best way to report your earnings, talk to your local Social Security office or talk to a Benefits Planner.

Note: If you also get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must report your income separately for SSI and SSDI. Ask your Social Security claims representative how you should report income for SSDI.

Learn more