TN 94 (07-24)

SI 00820.535 Blind Work Expense (BWEs)


Social Security Act – Sections 1611 and 1612(b);
20 CFR 416.1112

A. Definition of Blind Work Expenses

Blind Work Expense (BWEs) allow blind individuals to exclude reasonable, unreimbursed expenses from earned income. A reasonable expense is the amount customarily charged for covered or similar services and supplies.

B. Policy for exclusion of Blind Work Expenses

1. Eligibility requirements

BWEs are excluded from the earned income of a blind individual who:

  • is under age 65; or

  • is age 65 or older; and was receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments due to blindness (or received payments under a former State plan for aid to the blind) for the month before attaining age 65.

2. Application of exclusion

Use the following guidelines when applying the exclusion of BWE.

  1. a. 

    Never exclude BWE in excess of earned income from monthly-unearned income.

  2. b. 

    The BWE exclusion is applied to earned income immediately after applying:

    • any portion of the general income exclusion which has not been excluded from unearned income; and

    • all other earned income exclusions except the exclusion of income used to fulfill an approved plan to achieve self-support (PASS).


BWEs are exclusions to earned income only, and not general exclusions. To input BWE exclusions in SSI claim system (i.e., MSSICS/SSI Claim System), select the appropriate radio button(s) on the Blind/Impaired Work Expense page. Input the expenses under the appropriate category on the Blind/Impaired Work Expense page. Do not code BWE exclusions on the wage page under deduction.

See also:


3. Excludable items

Items that are excludable as BWEs are defined as follows:

  1. a. 

    Except for items in SI 00820.535B.4, the cost of any work-related item paid by a blind individual may be excluded as BWEs, regardless of:

    • any non-work benefit that may be derived from the item; or

    • the item's relationship to the individual's blindness.

  2. b. 

    A blind individual may claim the amount withheld for Federal, State, and local income taxes, and Social Security and Medicare taxes even though other factors may affect their tax liability (e.g., number of dependents, business loss, etc.).

  3. c. 

    Commonly excluded BWEs include medication, medical devices, and transportation to and from work. For a more complete list of excludable BWEs, refer to SI 00820.555.

4. Non-excludable items

We cannot exclude the following items from earned income as BWEs:

  1. a. 

    In-kind payments

  2. b. 

    Expenses excluded under other provisions (e.g., PASS)

  3. c. 

    Expenses that will be reimbursed by another agency or employer

  4. d. 

    Life maintenance expenses. Although not all inclusive, life maintenance items can include the following:

    • meals consumed outside of work hours;

    • self-care items (including items of cosmetic rather than work-related nature);

    • educational development;

    • contributions to savings plans (e.g., Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA's) or voluntary pensions);

    • life and health insurance premiums

  5. e. 

    Items furnished by others that are needed in order to work (the value of such items is not income)

  6. f. 

    Expenses claimed on a self-employment tax return (For further policy regarding this issue, see SI 00820.545B.1.)

EXAMPLE: Mrs. Peters, a blind individual, works as a transcriptionist. Their employer bought them a special computer program that they needed to perform satisfactorily on the job. The value of the computer program is not income to Mrs. Peters, nor is it excluded as a BWE since they did not pay for it.


MS INTRANETSSI 014.032 Work Expenses-Blind Work Expenses

SI 00820.555 List of Type and Amount of Deductible Work Expenses

SI 00820.545B.1 Interaction with Other Policies

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SI 00820.535 - Blind Work Expense (BWEs) - 07/01/2024
Batch run: 07/01/2024