Considerations for Youth
Nuts & Bolts
How does working effect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for young adults? This tool answers this common question. It explains that if an SSI recipient works, they will always end up with more money than if they do not work. It also shows how the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) can help youth retain a full SSI payment while earning a paycheck and continuing their education.
Review of How Income Affects SSI Payments
SSI payment rates are calculated by subtracting a person’s Countable Income from their state’s SSI Base Rate. The lower the Countable Income, the higher the SSI payment, up to the SSI Base Rate for the beneficiary’s state (see Tool 3).
Several work incentives can reduce Countable Income, including the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE).
The Powerful Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)
The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) is available to students who are under age 22 and “regularly attending school.” (See below for more about “regularly attending school.) During 2023, it excludes the first $2,220 of gross monthly earnings, up to a yearly maximum of $8,950. These amounts are adjusted annually to reflect cost-of-living increases.
Example of SEIE: Reggie
Reggie, age 17, just finished his third year of high school, and plans to return to school as a full-time student in September. He receives SSI of $914 per month and gets automatic Medicaid (i.e., he resides in one of 41 states in which Medicaid is automatic for SSI beneficiaries).
Reggie takes a summer job at a supermarket and earns $885 gross each month during July and August. This is his first earnings of the year. Reggie qualifies for the SEIE as he is under age 22 and regularly attends school. Since his gross earned income is less than $2,220 per month, none of his July and August earnings will be counted by the SSI program. His $914 SSI payment and his automatic Medicaid will continue.
Work Experience Is Important for Youth
Practical work experience is important. It helps a young person get a feel for what they like to do. It builds a resume. And it brings in extra money. The SEIE couples the importance of gaining work experience with the value of remaining in school.
The SEIE Is a Stay-in-School Incentive
For a youth in high school, college, or some other qualifying program, the SEIE applies and typically all earnings are excluded from the SSI payment calculation. This allows the SSI payment to remain the same, with or without earnings. However, if the youth stops attending school, the SEIE is no longer available.
With the earned income exclusions for those not using the SEIE, the first $65 of gross earnings are excluded and 50 percent of the remainder is excluded. This results in a lower SSI payment.
The SEIE rewards youth who stay in school and earn money through working. The SEIE allows the student, in most cases, to keep the full SSI payment and full paycheck.
The Meaning of Regularly Attending School
Regularly attending school means taking one or more courses and attending classes:
- In a college or university for at least 8 hours a week; or
- In grades 7–12 for at least 12 hours a week; or
- In a training course to prepare for employment for at least 12 hours a week (15 hours a week if the course involves shop practice); or
- For less time for reasons, such as an illness, beyond the student’s control.
Online students meet this requirement if the online courses involve grades 7–12; a college or university, or a government agency; and the online school meets state law requirements.
What about Homeschooling?
Homeschooled students can meet the “regularly attending school” test if:
- When homeschooled by choice:
- Instruction is in grades 7–12 at least 12 hours per week; and
- Instruction meets the homeschool standards of the student’s state of residence.
- When homeschooling is because of a disability that interferes with school attendance:
- Instruction can be in grades 7-12, through a college or university, or through a government program; and
- There is a home visitor or instructor who directs the study.
The Role of the Vocational Counselor
If you are a vocational counselor, your role is to make the young person and the family aware of the SEIE and other work incentives, as some youth and their parents have misinformation about the impact of work on SSI. Some may wrongly believe that any work will lead to a loss of SSI. Others may wrongly believe that the youth will lose a dollar of SSI for every dollar of earnings.
Vocational counselors are in a unique position to educate youth and families about the SEIE. Using the examples and other resources in this toolkit, you can show how work can bring extra money to the youth with no reduction to the SSI payment.
Getting the SSI Program to Approve an SEIE
SSI beneficiaries are most likely to get an SEIE approved if they put together a packet of information for the SSI program staff that establishes eligibility for the SEIE. Include these documents in the packet:
- A copy of the two SSI policies governing the SEIE. These polices are POMS SI 00820.510 and POMS SI 00501.020. If you cannot provide a copy, provide references to the two policies.
- A statement that you are under age 22 (Social Security will have a record of your age).
- Proof that you are attending a school program or vocational training program that meets the “regularly attending school” requirements. This could be a school schedule, letter of acceptance, recent grade transcripts, or letter from the school/training program verifying your attendance.
- Recent paystubs that show how much you are earning.
- Anything else that Social Security requests.
Bring the packet to the local Social Security office where you are served
Every Social Security office should have a WIL (Work Incentive Liaison). A WIL is a person with expertise on Social Security and SSI work incentives. First try to give the SEIE packet to the WIL. If it cannot be delivered to the WIL, ask that it be given to the Claims Specialist assigned to your case. If possible, give the SEIE packet to the WIL or Claims Specialist during a face-to-face meeting.
How to follow up on your request
If you have not heard about the SEIE approval and 2 weeks have passed since you provided the SEIE packet to the WIL or Claims Specialist, you should follow up:
- First, attempt to call the WIL or Claims Specialist. If you cannot reach the WIL or Claims Specialist by phone, go to your local Social Security office and ask to speak to one of them.
- If 2 more weeks have passed and there is still no answer, repeat these steps.
- If a month or more has passed and there is still no answer, go to the local Social Security office and ask to speak to the supervisor. Explain to the supervisor what you have done to date.
A work incentive counselor may be able to assist
Do you have a work incentive counselor? This person may have a regular working relationship with the WIL and know how best to approach them to get the SEIE approved. Free work incentive counseling (often called benefits counseling or benefits planning) should be available in all areas of the country through the Social Security–funded Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) projects. To find a WIPA program in your area, go to the Ticket to Work Find Help page.
Your state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency might fund free work incentive counseling if you have an open case with the VR agency. Also, in some states, you might find free work incentive counseling outside of the WIPA or VR agency systems.
Other Important Work Incentives for Youth
As a young adult SSI beneficiary approaches high school graduation, it may be unclear how they will afford to live independently, continue their education, or save money toward future expenses. Two SSI programs that allow a young adult to save for expenses like transportation and housing are Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account. With an ABLE account, families and others can also contribute to a young adult’s expenses. Tool 7 explains how these work.