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Taking Account of Blind Work Expenses (BWE)

The existence of the rather enticing range of work incentives shows that there’s no denying that Social Security has an interest in encouraging all beneficiaries to see if they can keep working or return to work in some capacity. While there are incentives that cover all recipients, such as the much celebrated Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE), others are more discerning and actively seek out particular beneficiaries who meet a rather specific demographic type. Here one would single out the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) as a good example. (See here for more information: As the title might suggest, the Blind Work Expense (BWE) is a further example of such targeted incentivizing.

Crucially, BWEs are only available to recipients who have been determined by Social Security to meet their standards of ‘statutory blindness.’ More pertinently, and something that has a tendency to be forgotten, it is available only to SSI recipients who meet that standard.

If someone meets those two fundamental requirements they are open to a hugely advantageous work incentive that has few restrictions on what actually counts as a BWE. If you have an expense that’s related to work you can document it, report it to Social Security and have a reasonable expectation that it will be deducted from your countable income. A few common examples of the myriad potential BWEs are: state and federal taxes; mandatory pension contributions; uniforms; transportation; service animal costs; childcare; and even meals at work.

In a further advantage, the amount is deducted after the standard earned income deductions, meaning that the final countable income amount is likely to be very low or even non-existent. For example, using Social Security’s own calculation, someone with only SSI and earned income of $685 but no BWEs or other work incentive deductions would have countable income of $300. (The SSI amount would be reduced by that amount and he would end up with SSI of $450.) If the beneficiary had BWEs those expenses would be subtracted from the final countable income of $300. With monthly BWEs amounting to $300 there would be no reduction in the SSI amount and he could expect to have his $685 in earned income as well as a full SSI amount of $750.

Much like the aforementioned SEIE, this targeted work incentive is evidently more generous than the standard all-encompassing ones, although to its disadvantage it does require a good deal of record keeping and reporting for a beneficiary to fully take advantage of the opportunity. Also, as with much that is reported, it’s up to Social Security’s discretion as to what actually constitutes a BWE.