A dip into the MDBCN blog archives gives the curious reader a real sense that Social Security, like time itself, does actually move inexorably onwards, even though the ultimate goal may still elude us. Within all those blogs that meant something at the time but have since lost their worth there are a few constants that shine on. It’s worth stopping and having a look at those again.

Here below is a classis blog from 2017 (with edits to show the SGA figures for 2021 and 2022 and a link to the current Red Book). Let’s read on once more about the enduring great that is the Impairment Related Work Expense, which was written by another enduring great, Lauren Horner.

Social Security has special rules called work incentives that support employment efforts and serve as an extra ‘incentive’ for SSI and SSDI beneficiaries to work. One of these work incentives is called an Impairment Related Work Expense, more commonly known by its acronym – IRWE.

What is an Impairment Related Work Expense? An IRWE is an item or service that you need because of a physical or mental impairment that enables you to work and that you pay for out of your own pocket, not reimbursed by another source like Medicare, Medicaid, or private health coverage or another agency.

What type of expenses are considered as IRWEs? Some common examples of IRWEs include costs for: medical devices and/or diagnostic tests; prescription medications, vehicle modifications, residential modifications, assistive devices; service animal expenses; transportation expenses necessitated by the individual’s disability; and attendant care services. This list is not all inclusive.

When are IRWEs counted? Social Security typically applies the IRWE within the same month the expense was paid for. In some instances, large IRWE payments can be pro-rated across several months or the entire year if the item or service paid for continues to be utilized for each of those months and continues to enable the individual to work for each of those months.

How do IRWEs help a beneficiary? When an individual has an approved IRWE, Social Security will deduct the cost of the IRWE from the amount of their gross earned income for the month. Having less than the full amount of their earned income counted can help in two ways:

  1. During Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA determinations for SSDI beneficiaries, IRWEs can enable an individual to potentially earn more than the standard limit on earnings $1,310 this year and $1,350 per month for 2022) and still continue receiving their benefit. Whether or not benefits continue depends on the amount of an individual’s earnings and the amount of the approved IRWE.
  2. When determining the amount of benefit an SSI recipient is eligible for each month, IRWEs can help an SSI beneficiary keep more of their SSI while working.

I think I may have an IRWE. How do I report this to Social Security? IRWEs must be approved by Social Security before they can help a beneficiary by being deductible from earnings. If you are an SSDI or SSI recipient and you have an expense(s) you believe may qualify as an IRWE, you should first be sure to gather and keep receipts for those expenses. Social Security will require you to submit proof of the amount of the expense and proof that you paid for the expense. Copies of these receipts should be submitted to your local Social Security field office monthly.

Where can I get more information? More information about IRWEs can be found in Social Security’s Red Book here: Social Security Online – The Red Book – A Guide to Work Incentives (ssa.gov)