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Hi. My name is Debi Schwartz and I am Social Security's Area Work Incentives Coordinator for Southern Ohio. I would like to spend a few minutes explaining Social Security's work incentives programs and show how it can provide opportunities for you to maximize your vocational potential.

Special rules make it possible for people with disabilities receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive their monthly payments, along with Medicare or Medicaid. Social Security calls these rules "work incentives."

Let's first look at the work incentives available to individuals receiving Social Security Disability Benefits. This is sometimes referred to as SSDI. With SSDI, you are entitled to a 9-month trial work period, which allows you to test your ability to work. During your trial work period, you will receive your full disability benefit regardless of how much you earn as long as you continue to have a disabling impairment. The 9 months do not need to be consecutive and your trial work period will last until you accumulate 9 months within a rolling 60-month period. It will take earnings of $720 per month to trigger a trial work period month.

Now after the 9-month trial work period ends, you begin a new work incentive, the extended period of eligibility. This is when we evaluate your current work to determine if you are working at a substantial gainful activity or SGA level. The current measurement of SGA is $1,000 in gross wages per month, or $1,640 per month if you are legally blind. This extended period lasts for 36 consecutive months following the end of the trial work period. We can pay benefits for any month in which your earnings are below the SGA level.

For SSDI, we have many incentives to help us in making the SGA evaluation of your work . One is called the Impairment Related Work Expense or IRWE. Using IRWE, we can deduct from your earnings the cost of certain impairment-related expenses that you need in order to go to work. Examples of this would include such things as wheelchairs, certain special transportation costs, co-payments for medications and doctor visits, and specialized work-related equipment.

Another consideration in determining SGA is Subsidy or Special Conditions. This refers to the support you receive on the job that could result in your receiving more pay than the actual value of the services you performed. We deduct the value of these subsidies and special conditions from your earnings.

Some examples of these subsidies and special conditions would include

  • Receiving more supervision than other workers doing the same or a similar job for the same pay.
  • Having fewer or simpler tasks to complete than other workers who are doing the same job for the same pay.
  • Having a job coach or mentor who helps you perform some of your work.

Social Security understands how important it is to keep your health insurance. For that reason, SSDI beneficiaries who work will continue to receive at least 93 consecutive months of Medicare after the 9-month Trial Work Period, even if the earnings are above SGA.

If within 5 years of losing your cash benefits due to work you stop working above the SGA level, you can have your benefits reinstated for up to 6 months while Social Security makes a new medical determination. This work incentive is called Expedited Reinstatement.

Now let's talk about Supplemental Security Income or SSI. Because SSI is a needs-based program, the work incentives are completely different from those used by SSDI beneficiaries.

If you are on SSI, Social Security does not count the first $20 you have of any income. This is called the general exclusion. Social Security also excludes the first $65 in wages. This is called the wage exclusion. Additionally, Social Security excludes one-half of the remaining balance.

For example, if you are on SSI and earned $1,085 for the month, we would subtract the $20 general exclusion, the $65 wage exclusion, and then one-half of the balance. This leaves $500. In this example, a person earning $1,085 would have their SSI benefits reduced by $500.

SSI also allows you to subtract from your earnings the cost of impairment related work expenses.

Using the prior example, you see that with Impairment Related Work Expenses of $200, the SSI benefit would be reduced by $400.

There are special SSI rules and formulas for individuals who are legally blind. Please contact your local Social Security office for additional information.

If you are under age 22 and regularly attending school, Social Security has a special work incentive called a Student Earned Income Exclusion. For Student Earned Income Exclusion, we do not count the first $1,640 of earned income per month up to $6,600 per year when we figure your SSI payment amount.

Just like with SSDI, SSI has special work incentives for continuing medical coverage when you work. Your Medicaid coverage can continue even if your earnings along with your other income becomes too high for an SSI cash payment. This work incentive is called Section 1619 (a) and (b). You will need to verify with Social Security that you need Medicaid in order to work and meet certain income restrictions.

Another great work incentive is the Plan to Achieve Self-Support, or the PASS. The PASS allows you to use your income and/or things you own to reach a work goal. For example, you can set aside money to go back to school, or to get specialized training for a job or to start a business. Your goal should be that the job allows you to earn enough to reduce or eliminate your need for benefits that are provided by the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs. During the past we don't count the money or resources that you've set aside under that approved PASS while we decide your initial or continuing eligibility for SSI. Having a PASS may help you to qualify for SSI or may increase the amount of your SSI payment.

Now as you can see, Social Security has several incentives in place to help you make a smooth transition from benefits to work. I know that the information I shared with you today can be very overwhelming and confusing.

To help demystify this process for you, Social Security has provided grants to outside agencies to help you with benefits planning. The goal of this benefits planning is to help you learn which work incentives apply to you and how to use them to transition to work. These providers are called Work Incentives Planning & Assistance or WIPA projects. You can also access free vocational services from our approved Employment Networks under the Ticket to Work Legislation.

Information on the WIPA's and Employment Networks in your area can be found on our website or by calling our toll-free number. A list of these resources is on your screen now.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share information on Social Security's work incentives. I hope this presentation helps give you the confidence you need to make the transition to work.