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 it’s 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 (click here for current and historical SGA limits) 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 (click here to be directed to SSA’s Red Book online).