If I get a penny every time someone says, "I can't live on my disability income," I'd probably have $8.43. No kidding! The most common thing I hear is that it is hard to live on disability income, however, the biggest fear, and myth, I hear is that I will lose my benefits if I work. This article hopes to dissect the Ticket to Work program and dispel some of the myths about work and its impact on benefits.
First, what is Ticket to Work? The Ticket to Work program (TTW) is a Social Security initiative for individuals with disability who wants to work and move towards economic independence. Anyone ages 18- 64, who receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits because of his or her disability is eligible to participate in the program. The program is voluntary and the services offered are free. The goal of the program is to offer you the support you need to work for the chance of becoming and staying economically independent. By participating in the program, you are agreeing to its goals, to make a good faith effort to achieve these goals. You will not be penalized if you do not achieve the goal of the program.
Sounds pretty good so far right? So, how does it work? 1. It helps you get back to work and 2. It protects your benefits.
1. Getting back to work:
TTW has contracted many agencies to help you get back to work. These agencies are funded by TTW so their services to you are free! Together they form what TTW calls The Employment Team. (Cue the wind machine and the Avenger's theme song). First, there is the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR); they're probably the Captain America of the team in that they are the most well-known. Then there are the lesser well-known Employment Network (EN) and Workforce Employment Network (WF). These 3 Employment Teams help you get back to work. Depending on which stage of employment you are at, each team offers something different so that one will fit your specific needs. If you haven't been in the workforce for some time, perhaps an agency offering training might be helpful. If you are looking specifically for at-home positions, maybe an agency offering job placement in at-home work might fit your need. If you are already working, an agency offering ongoing employment support and work-reimbursements might be just what you need. And last but not least, there are two special Employment Teams: Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) and Protection Advocacy for beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS). WIPA offers benefits counseling to help you understand how work and earnings impact your benefits, healthcare and other public benefits. They are really the first Team you should talk to when deciding if work is right for you. Then there is the PABSS, they are your legal team. They provide the legal support, advocacy and information you need with resolving employment-related concerns. VR, EN, WF, WIPA and PABSS, these 5 types of agencies form your Employment Team.
Now onto the topic you've been waiting for:
Work Incentives. Work Incentives are the benefits and protections that allow you to keep your cash benefits and healthcare coverage until you achieve self-sufficiency. It allows you to explore work without worry. Awesome right? Totally! But different work incentives apply to different benefits. If you are receiving SSDI, your work incentives are vastly different than someone receiving SSI. In order to know which work incentives apply to you, you need to first know the benefits you are receiving. I can't stress this enough, knowing which benefit you receive is very important! There are two types of Social Security disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You can receive both SSDI and SSI.
There are several Work Incentives for SSDI, but for brevity sake, we will look at 3:
The 9 months Trial Work Period is one of the best work incentives. The 9 months are within a 60 months period (5 years). It is not 9 consecutive months. It is 9 months that could be scattered over a period of 5 years. You use 1 month when you earn Trial Work Level (TWL) $810 in 2016 ($780 2015 and $770 in 2014). You can keep receiving benefits no matter how much you work and earn, even above Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), until you use up all 9 months.
For SSDI, income is calculated by pay period (pay beginning and pay ending dates), not paid date (it can also be the check date).
After the 9 months Trial Work Period, you enter the 36 months of Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). For 3 years, for the months your earnings are below SGA $1130 non-blind and $1820 for blind in 2016 ($1090/$1820 2015 and $1070/$1800 2014), you get SSDI. For the months above SGA, you do not get SSDI. During this 3 years, your SSDI benefits are reinstated right away, no application.
Now after your 3 years and 9 months, if you suddenly find yourself unable to work, you can file for Expedited Reinstatement (EXR). You have 60 months (5 years) to use your EXR work incentive. For SSDI, the start date is the first SGA month after the 36th month of EPE. EXR allows you to request to have your benefits reinstated without completing a new application. While Social Security determines your eligibility for reinstatement, you are eligible for temporary benefits up to 6 months (and the benefits can include Medicare).
Basically, these 3 work incentives allow SSDI beneficiaries to work and be on the program for 8 years and 9 month. That's working without worry right?
Now let's take a look at SSI.
SSI is a whole different beast altogether. SSI is complicated and a whole lot of math. The two most important things for SSI beneficiaries to know are Income and Assets.
To qualify for SSI, your monthly income cannot exceed the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). The FBR is set by law and is fixed. The FBR for 2016 is $733 per month for individuals. Income can be earned (wages) and unearned (SSDI, pensions, interests, etc.), there's also deeming (someone else's income i.e. parent or spouse) and in-kind (shelter or food received free or at reduced cost). There are things not considered as income such as tax refunds, loans spent in the month received, bills paid by 3rd parties directly to the vendor for other than food and shelter, etc. And income can also be considered as assets. Earnings from your job are considered as this month's income, what is not spent will be counted as next month's assets. Did I mention SSI is complicated?
SSI is a needs-based program, so, in order to qualify for SSI, your assets cannot exceed a certain amount, $2000 for individuals. An asset is cash or resource that can be converted to cash and used for your support. An asset can be liquid or non-liquid. As with income, there are things not counted as assets by SSA.
Remember I said there's a whole lot of math involved with SSI? Here we go: SSA excludes $20 per month of income not from wages (SSDI, pensions, etc.). SSA excludes $65 per month of wages and ½ of wages over $65. Last but not least, income is calculated by pay date (check date). Let's look at 2 examples:
Example #1: How to calculate unearned income?
Anna receives $520 per month in SSDI, how much will she receive in SSI?
Example #2: How to calculate work income?
Anna receives $773 (SSI FBR), $520 in SSDI, and decides to take a job paying $885 in gross wages per month, how does work affect her SSI?
Think all the math is done? Think again, there are more calculations to do. For SSI beneficiaries, the main work incentive is Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). They are allowable deductions from your earned income. IRWEs can be items or services that enables to you work (ex. Transportation), Impairment related items or services (ex. Personal Care Attendant), things you pay for that is not covered or reimbursed by any other source (ex. Medical equipment). You have to document these costs, so keep your receipts and hopefully you or someone you know is very good at math.
Last but not least, SSI beneficiaries are also entitled to Expedited Reinstatement (EXR). For SSI beneficiaries, they also have 60 months (5 years) to file for EXR. The starting date for them is 12 months after the first month of financial ineligibility.
We're coming to the home stretch.
Some last odds and ends and best practices. If you collect both SSDI and SSI, you need to count your income two different ways: SSDI (pay period) and SSI (pay date), and the $2000 asset rule still applies to your SSI benefits. It is important that you report your income to SSA and make sure you get a receipt. If SSA does not know that you are working, then you could get benefits for months you shouldn't and end up with an overpayment issue. If SSA isn't aware of the loss of your job, then you might not receive benefits for the months you are entitled to. It is important to report to SSA anything and everything that might affect your eligibility. It is also important to document and keep copies of everything you provide to SSA. Be educated, be informed, be proactive and be smart.
Whew! Hopefully you've gained some insights as to how the Ticket to Work program works and will be able to make an informed decision if work is right for you.
References: www.landajob.org - choosework.net
Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.
Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.
Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.