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Individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits often have to work while they are in the process of applying for disability benefits. If one’s earnings are too high, the Social Security Administration can deny an application for benefits, but if you are spending money on certain impairment related work expenses (IRWEs) while you are working, you may be able to use these IRWE to effectively lower your income. As a result, you may be eligible to apply for benefits or lessen the reduction of your SSI disability benefits. 

Substantial Gainful Activity

Social Security will deny an application if your earrings exceed the “substantial gainful activity (SGA)” threshold. For the year 2024, SGA for a non-blind employee is $1,550 per month before taxes. See Impairment related work expenses (IRWEs) can help to lower your income so that you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance and or SSI disability benefits.  These expenses also will be deducted from earned income for the purpose of determining an SSI recipient’s countable earned income.

Qualification Requirements

In order to qualify as an IRWE, the IRWE must correlate with your disability; you must need the expense to be able to work; you are not being reimbursed for the expense by another party, e.g., your private health insurer or Medicare or Medicaid; and the cost of the item or service must be reasonable (the cost represents the standard charge for the item or service in your community).  Remember that accurate documentation is essential when claiming IRWE deductions. Claimants must provide proof of payment for the item or service, such as verified statements, canceled checks, or paid receipts.

Examples of IRWEs

Social Security’s website gives examples of different types of IRWEs as well as non-IRWEs: “The cost of certain attendant care services, medical devices, equipment, prostheses, and similar items and services may be deducted. The costs of drugs and medical services are not deductible unless the drugs or services are necessary to control the disabling condition to enable the person to work. Expenses that are not directly related to the impairment(s) cannot be deducted as IRWE. Examples of non-deductible items include but are not limited to: Routine annual physical examinations; Routine optician services (unrelated to a disabling visual impairment); Routine dental examinations; and Health and life insurance premiums. (Social Security Program POperations Manual System (POMS)) Expenses for an impairment-related item or service may include payment for: purchase, installation, maintenance and/or repair.  

Attendant Care Services

Attendant care services “are those forms of assistance which help a person with a disability meet his or her essential needs at home or at work, such as bathing, toileting, dressing, cooking, eating, communicating, traveling to and from work, and similar personal needs. Attendant care services can include services provided to help a person with a disability in performing the functions of his or her job, such as a reader or a job coach. This definition is applicable only to those services which can be shown to be needed to enable the person with a disability to work.” (SSA POMS)  

Medical Equipment

“Medical equipment is defined as durable medical devices which can withstand repeated use, are primarily used to serve a medical purpose, and are generally not useful to a person with a disability in the absence of an illness or injury. Examples in this category are wheelchairs, hemodialysis equipment, respirators, intermittent positive pressure breathing machines, pacemakers, inhalators, nebulizers, suction machines, traction equipment, braces (leg, arm, back and neck), and similar items.” (SSA POMS)  “Other impairment-related equipment means items other than durable medical equipment and prostheses which a person with a disability may need to perform the tasks required in his or her job, or to move from home to mode of transportation, or to control the disabling condition at home or in the work setting to be able to function in a work activity.” (SSA POMS)


As a dedicated disability attorney, we recognize the complexities and challenges you face, and understand how IRWEs can serve as a powerful tool in maximizing your income while navigating the intricate eligibility criteria. Our commitment is to guide you through this process to enhance your chances of success. For more information and assistance, please contact us.