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Work Incentives – Subsidies and Special Conditions


If you’re familiar with how employment impacts Title II benefits like SSDI, then you are already aware that following the end of the Trial Work Period, Social Security will make a determination about whether an individual is performing Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA when working. SGA determinations help Social Security decide whether an individual should still be eligible to receive their benefit payments when working beyond the end of the TWP. If SGA is not performed – benefit payments can continue. If SGA is performed – benefit payments are ceased. Every year, SGA is defined by a specific dollar amount. That dollar amount is $1,180 for the year 2018. But it is important to know that SGA determinations involve more than just that dollar amount.

When making an SGA determination, Social Security is concerned only with the amount of an individual’s earnings that represent the real value of the work he or she performs. If an individual receives extra help or supervision on the job, has a job coach, or receives some other type of special accommodation at work, Social Security must determine if a work incentive deduction for a Subsidy and/or Special Condition applies. Social Security deducts the value of subsidies/special conditions from earnings when making an SGA decision. This means it may be possible for an individual to earn more than the SGA dollar amount set for that year – again $1,180 in 2018 – and still be eligible to receive their benefit payments.

Subsidies and Special Conditions are a work incentive that need to be reported to and approved by Social Security field offices in order for them to apply. There are questions within the Work Activity Report (form SSA-821) which is a form SSA uses to gather earnings and work-related information, that help Social Security gauge the presence and amount of this work incentive deduction. It is important that individuals provide detailed information within the Work Activity Report about any job coaching, extra help on the job, reduced productivity, and/or special accommodations provided by the employer. If its not reported, it cannot be counted. In the event Social Security would need more information about a potential Subsidy and/or Special Condition , they may reach out directly to the employer or to the individual to request more information. Remember, this work incentive is only considered for Title II beneficiaries and is not considered under the SSI benefit program. An example of how a Subsidy and/or Special Condition is determined and calculated can be found below.

  • Jane works as a grocery store clerk. Her job description as a Store Clerk includes the following duties: 1) Operating the cash registers; 2)Providing customer service to patrons; 3)Ferrying store carts from the parking lot; and 4)Stocking store shelves with new merchandise. Jane experienced a back injury a few years prior and continues to experience impairments from this injury. While she is a great employee and is skilled at most of her job description duties, she is unable to lift the merchandise boxes because of her impairment and thus cannot stock shelves. It is determined that stocking shelves constitutes 20% of the job description for a Store Clerk. The employer pays Jane the same hourly rate as other employees in her position, however, Jane only performs 80% of her job description. In this example, Social Security would determine that Jane has a 20% subsidy and would only count 80% of Jane’s earnings when making an SGA determination for the month. Even though Jane is earning $1,300 per month which is above the SGA limit of $1,180, Social Security is only counting 80% of her earnings or $1,040 per month. Because the amount of earnings SSA counts is below the SGA limit in effect for that year, Jane is eligible to continue receiving her SSDI checks.

Click here to see a brief overview of Subsidies and Special Conditions in SSA’s Red Book.