What are impairment related work expenses (IRWE) and why are they useful when working?
If you are currently working and if you have a disability, you can utilize impairment related work expenses, or IRWE. The Social Security Administration may deduct your impairment related work expenses from your total earnings when determining how much SSI and/or SSDI cash benefits you receive monthly. Overall, impairment related work expenses help people with disabilities maintain their cash benefits while working, since Social Security is not counting all of their earnings.
How can impairment related work expenses help me while working?
Impairment related work expenses allow you to keep some of your cash benefits while still making an income. When determining if your work meets SGA, Social Security deducts the cost of certain disability-related expenses that you need to maintain employment. For example, the SSA could deduct the wages of the care workers that help you at work, or they could deduct the cost of your accessible vehicle modifications that help transport you to work. Because the SSA deducts certain disability expenses and is therefore not counting your full income, impairment related work expenses can help you keep your cash benefits while holding a job.
You can classify certain costs as “impairment related work expenses” even if you also use the product or service outside of work hours. For example, if you have a service dog, you can count the costs of owning your service dog as impairment related work expenses because your service dog helps you perform your job. Costs towards your service dog count as IRWE, despite the fact you utilize your service dog at home and at other places outside of work.
What are considered deductible impairment related work expenses for work that is considered substantial gainful activity?
Social Security deducts impairment related work expenses for SGA purposes in four scenarios:
- If the product or service helps you work and perform your job
- If you require the product or service because of a physical or mental disability
- If you pay for the product or service and are not reimbursed by a federal government program (such as Medicaid) or through private insurance
- If the cost for the product or service is “reasonable,” meaning that the cost is considered standard and not over-priced
What are different examples of impairment related work expenses?
The SSA can deduct your out-of-pocket costs for products and services such as medical equipment, service animals, transportation, and assistive technology. The SSA also considers expenses from appointments with doctors and employment counselors that helped you prepare for work. As long as the expense can be considered work-related, meaning the product or service helps you perform your job, then it may qualify as an impairment related work expense.
To be considered an impairment related work expense, the expense must not have been reimbursed. For example, if you bought a new wheelchair that was covered under your private insurance company, that is not considered an impairment related work expense.
There are many different examples of impairment related work expenses. Below are the most common impairment related work expenses deducted by the SSA:
- Care Services: If you have a care worker who assists you in the workplace, their wages can be considered U.S. Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Richard Stalder is a wounded warrior competing in archery, cycling and shooting during the 2014 Marine Corps Trials on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 4, 2014. Stalder’s mother, Claudia Stalder, became his primary caregiver following his diagnosis. (DoD photo by Cpl. Lisette Leyva, JCCCproduct/Released)impairment related work expenses. If your spouse reduces their hours at work to help you get ready in the morning or transport you to your job, their lost wages can be considered impairment related work expenses, as well. However, care services outside of work hours are not considered as IRWE.
- Transportation: If you use a modified accessible vehicle to transport you to your job, the modifications on your vehicle can be counted as an impairment related work expense. If you utilize taxi or paratransit services to help you get to work because of your disability, these costs can also be considered as IRWE. However, the total cost of your accessible vehicle is not considered IRWE, and neither is the cost of your rides to and from medical appointments.
- Medical Devices: Wheelchairs, pacemakers, braces, traction equipment, respirators, and other medical devices can all be considered impairment related work expenses. Any device not used for a medical purpose is not considered as an IRWE.
- Service Animals:If you have a service animal you take to work, the costs of buying the animal, training the animal, feeding the animal, and caring for the animal are all considered impairment related work expenses. However, costs for non-service animals are not considered as IRWE.
- Medicine & Medical Services: Consistent medicine and medical treatment that help you control your disability—such as physician appointments, antidepressant medications, corrective surgeries, and mental health services— can qualify as impairment related work expenses. However, medicine and medical treatment that is used to treat non-disability-related health problems, such as allergies, are not considered as IRWE.
Other costs that are considered impairment related work expenses include diagnostic procedures, prosthesis, and residential modifications (if you work at home).
What if the item or services used on the job and off the job?
Typically, items or services that are used off the job as well as on the job can still be considered impairment related work expenses. A great example of this is the cost of a wheelchair. The cost of a wheelchair can be considered an impairment related work expense, despite the fact that it is used for daily living, because a wheelchair helps the worker do their job. There are many other products and services that qualify as IRWE and are used at work and in daily life, such as accessible vehicles, medical equipment, and assistive technologies.