In 1998, the disability community encouraged state officials to pursue a five-year grant from the Social Security Administration (SSA). This effort led to the creation of the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection, a statewide project serving all disability groups. As the Connection enters its fifth year, we’d like to update the community on our progress and plans for the future.
The Minnesota Work Incentives Connection helps people with disabilities determine how work affects their Social Security and other benefits. The Connection’s core service is Benefits Analysis, a customized, written plan showing the financial impact of taking a job or working more. Since January 2000, the Connection has completed almost 350 Benefits Analysis plans.
As part of a national Social Security Administration research project, extensive data is collected on Benefits Analysis participants to determine if the services help them work more and reduce their dependence on government benefits. Preliminary data show a 7.4 percent increase in employment, a 23 percent increase in hours worked, and a 34.3 percent increase in earnings of participants from intake through 6-month follow-up. This is significant, given the U.S. General Accounting Office’s finding that less than 1% of SSA beneficiaries leave the rolls each year as a result of paid employment. We applaud the many people who’ve overcome very legitimate fears about losing benefits, and have increased their level of employment, despite the many obstacles in their way.
The Connection also responds to a variety of inquiries via a statewide, toll free hot line. Since the spring of 1999, over 5,500 information & referral and problem-solving cases have been handled. In addition, the Connection has conducted over 400 outreach sessions with 5,000 people attending. Outreach sessions are held in locations across Minnesota to inform people about specific work incentives or changes in work incentives. Intensive training is also offered on SSI, SSDI, and Medical Assistance rules, and the work incentives associated with each program. The Connection has conducted 37 training sessions in locations throughout Minnesota, with over 1,100 attendees. Training activities were cut back this year so staff could focus on direct services to individuals, but the Connection expects to resume sessions in early 2003.
In 2001 and 2002, the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection conducted “Satisfaction Surveys” to determine how Minnesotans felt about the services offered. The number of people who returned the surveys far exceeded expectations. Over 90% of those responding in both years indicated they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the Connection. A surprising number of people took the time to include written comments with their survey responses. These comments have helped the Connection fine-tune services to better meet needs identified by the community.
What Does the Future Hold?
When the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection was launched in 1999, it was intended to be a long-term resource for Minnesotans with disabilities, rather than a short-term project that would disappear at the end of the grant period. The Connection is now faced with the challenge of determining whether, and how, to sustain its services in the future.
The initial State Partnership Initiative grant received by the Connection is expected to end September 30, 2003. In 2001, the Connection received a second grant from the Social Security Administration Benefits Planning, Assistance and Outreach but it funds only a small portion of the Connection’s activities. Any funding from state government is likely to be limited at best given the budget deficit. The resources of private funders are also stretched, making it difficult for them to assist, no matter how positive the Connection’s outcomes may be.
Working with others, the Connection recently pursued a U.S. Department of Labor grant that would help sustain the Connection for several more years. We are grateful for the many organizations that wrote letters of support for this proposal. Only seven proposals will be funded across the country, so it remains to be seen if the Connection will be selected.
While funding is pursued, the Connection is also exploring the feasibility of moving to nonprofit status. Despite the many challenges, we are optimistic that we will be able to sustain the services launched four years ago. We are encouraged by the many individuals and organizations that have expressed their support and their hope that we will continue. We welcome your input and ideas as we plan for the future.
To reach the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection, call 651-632-5113 or 1-800-976-6728, or TTY 651-632-5110 or Minnesota Relay – 711.