We Asked the Social Security Administration For Advice. Their Reply:

One of Social Security’s major goals is to assist blind and disabled persons to become self-sufficient, particularly through employment.  When […]

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One of Social Security’s major goals is to assist blind and disabled persons to become self-sufficient, particularly through employment.  When disability benefits are stopped due to substantial work, which was attained over a period of time while benefits were protected, the situation is positive for both the individual and the taxpayers.

The work incentive provisions in the law are designed for those people who wish to return to work despite their impairment.  Social Security work incentives recognize that most people will prefer to work and be self-supporting if they are able to do so.  Therefore, they provide protection against the loss of benefits for specified periods of time while a person tests his ability to work.

The Social Security Administration runs two disability programs:  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Some work incentive provisions apply to both programs, but each also has its own unique work incentive provisions.

Work Incentive provisions common to both programs are:

IMPAIRMENT-RELATED WORK EXPENSES (IRWE) which allow SSA to exclude from earnings certain expenses a blind or disabled person incurs due to his/her impairment in order to work.  For SSDI, IRWE reduces earned income for Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) purposes.  For SSI, IRWE reduces income for both SGA and computation purposes.

RECOVERY DURING VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION which allows for payment continuation to persons who experience medical recovery while participating in a vocational rehabilitation program.  Payment may continue until the program ends.

SSDI benefits are for workers who have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security to be insured.  An individual age 31 or older must have paid Social Security taxes in 5 out of the 10 years preceding the date he/she became disabled.  The payment amount is based on past earnings.  No “needs test” is required.  Work incentives specific to the SSDI program are:

TRIAL WORK PERIOD (TWP) allows payments to continue during a nine month period of work (the months do not have to be consecutive).

The TWP begins with the first month of earnings of $200 or more (or self-employment services totaling more than 40 hours per month).  It ends when there have been 9 such months.

After the TWP ends, the person’s work activity is evaluated by SSA to determine if it is SGA.  SGA, in most cases, is true earnings (after subtracting any subsidy or impairment-related work expenses) of $500 or more.

If work is not SGA, payments continue until the SGA level is attained.  If work is SGA, payment is made for the first month SGA after the TWP and the next 2 months.  At that point payments stop.

The person still has an EXTENDED PERIOD OF ELIGIBILITY (EPE).  For 36 months after the end of the TWP, if earnings fall below the SGA level, payments may be resumed without a new application.

Additionally, MEDICARE CONTINUATION provides Medicare coverage for 39 months after the end of the TWP.

SSI is for individuals who are needy.  Income and resource limits must be met.  SSI work incentives include:

EARNINGS EXCLUSIONS treat income from earnings more liberally than income that is unearned.  The first $65 plus 1/2 of the balance of any earned income is excluded in determining payments.  Only the first $20 of other income is excluded before determining amounts.

SECTION 1619(a) allows payments to continue as long as the needs criteria is met.  There is no TWP and payments don’t necessarily stop when earnings exceed the SGA level.

SECTION 1619(b) provides continued Medicaid coverage even when earnings are too high to allow monthly payments if the person cannot afford similar medical care and depends on Medicaid in order to work.  (Medicaid is the State/County medical assistance program.)

PLAN FOR ACHIEVING SELF-SUPPORT (PASS) allows recipients to set aside income and resources for up to 48 months.  Money set aside as part of a PASS will not be counted against the SSI payment amount.  The individual must have a feasible work goal, a specified savings/spending plan, and must provide for a clearly identifiable accounting for the funds which are set aside.  The plan must be in writing and have a specific time frame.  The individual must then follow the plan and negotiate revisions as needed.

Anyone may help the individual with his/her plan, e.g., vocational counselors, social workers, or employers.  The SSA’s responsibilities are to evaluate the plan and determine its acceptability.  It is also the SSA’s job to help people put their plan in writing.  Any_blind_or disabled_SSI_individual_can_have_a_plan.  It is important to keep in mind that as earnings go up, the individual who does not need a plan now may need one next month to remain eligible or to increase his/her SSI payment amount.

For further information about these work issues, or any other matters regarding Social Security or Supplemental Security Income call, toll free, 1-800-234-5772.

The above information was supplied by Jan Green, Field Representative for Chris Canney, Acting District Manager

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