Helping Older Workers Understand Social Security Benefits and Work Incentives (Audio Presentation)


Neva: Welcome to helping older workers find employment. My name is Neva Fairchild. I’m the National Independent Living Specialist for American Foundation for the Blind at the Center on Vision Loss in Dallas. I’d like to welcome Linda Baker and Laurie Trousdale from Easter Seals. They are going to talk to us about Social Security Benefits and returning or going to work. Linda?

Linda: Thank you, Neva. We appreciate you inviting us and we are happy to be here. Laurie and I work for Easter Seals North Texas in the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program. We serve individuals who are receiving both Title 2 Disability Benefits and Title 16 Supplemental Security Income Benefits that live within 12 counties here in North Texas. And they also happen to be between the ages of 16 and 64. We serve counties Collin, Dallas, Delta, Denton, Ellis, Hunt, Johnson, **Coflin, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant, and Wise.

What Are Social Security Benefits?

What are Social Security benefits? As I mentioned, the Title 2 Disability Benefits is called Social Security Disability Insurance, SSDI. And Title 16 is your Supplemental Security Income and that one is based on economic need. Now, we also talk about insurance, Medicare, of course, is our country’s health insurance program for people who are aged 65 or older and certain people with disabilities who are under 65. And it provides basic protection against the cost of healthcare but it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of long term care. There are several parts to Medicare. Part A is the hospital insurance. Part B is supplemental medical insurance. It helps pay for doctors, outpatient hospital care. And then Part D is the voluntary prescription drug program. The other program that helps a persons that are receiving benefits is the Medicaid program. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides no-cost or low cost health coverage to eligible children, families, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. So the next question is, what do we do?

Work Incentives Planning Assistance Program

The Work Incentives Planning Assistance Program collects information from the client and from Social Security. We verify your benefits. We provide basic information and referrals. We provide on-going case management and follow up services. We collect all this information so that we can create and individualized benefits summary and analysis report. This report includes a summary of your current benefit situation and analysis of how employment may affect your social security benefits, your healthcare, and other benefits, what work incentives may apply to your specific situation and employment services and supports that could be utilized. We also create a work incentives plan which actually breaks those goals down into manageable tasks.

Title 2 Disability Work Incentives

So let’s start with Title 2 Disability Work Incentives. I’ll speak about each one of these individually and we can talk in detail. If there’s any questions, feel free to contact me directly. The first one that would become available to you if you were an SSDI recipient beginning work is the trial work period. This allows a beneficiary to test his or her ability to work. Income does not affect SSDI benefits during these nine months. It’s considered a work incentive. It’s considered a try work period when gross earning exceed the amount. In 2016, it’s $810 and it won’t end until all nine months are used within a five year period. The next part is the extended period of eligibility which continues for 36 consecutive months immediately following the end of the trial work period. SSDI cash payments will continue any month that your countable gross earned income is below substantial gainful activity. In 2016, for non-blind individuals, that’s $1130 but for persons who have a visual impairment, it’s $1820. Cessation and grace period comes after the trail work period when you are determined to be making over SGA and this is a determination that is made by the Social Security Administration. Now there are impairment related work expenses. These dollar amounts are subtracted from the gross monthly income when calculating substantial gainful activity. And expenses that could qualify for this are items or services that enables you to work, items or services needed because of impairment that you pay for out of pocket that is not reimbursable by anyone and the cost is reasonable. Subsidies and special conditions happen when an employer or third party provides an individual with extra accommodations, supervision, or other special assistance because of the beneficiary’s disability. Social Security may apply a dollar value to these accommodations and subtract that from you gross earnings in order to help you stay under SGA.

Unsuccessful Work Attempt

Now, there is such a thing as an unsuccessful work attempt. It’s an effort on the part of the beneficiary to do some substantial work which they had to stop and reduced their earnings below SGA after six months or less due to their disability.

Expedited Reinstatement

The next work incentive is expedited reinstatement. EXR is a five year safety net, a quick way to get benefits back for people who have stopped receiving benefits due to work and find themselves unable to engage in SGA level activities. You can receive up to six months provisional benefit but you don’t have to file a new application to get your benefits started back.


Now, let’s talk about Medicare because most people are really concerned about what happens to that when they go to work. Medicare is protected under the extended period of Medicare coverage. It protects you for about 93 months after you finish the trial work period, which is 7.75 years. Don’t know why they picked that but that’s what they got. Section 301 allows for the continuation of benefits under both Title 2 which is SSDI and Title 16 which is SSI for individuals whose disability benefits would ordinarily have been terminated because of medical recovery. As long as they are participating in the vocational rehabilitation program, they can stay or continue to receive their benefits. Now, we are going to switch to SSI and I’m going to let Laurie talk to you.

SSI Work Incentives

Laurie: Thank you for having me today. I am excited to talk to you about SSI. I love my job and we have such extensive training, don’t we, Linda? And our manual is like an encyclopedia. It’s really thick. But I also, I want to reassure you that I’ve also been there. I am also a beneficiary disability and SSI as a wheelchair user so I’ve received all of these work incentives and I am here today to tell you that they do work. And to encourage you about that. With SSI work incentives, the good news is that you are always going to have more money in your pocket by working than not. Who out there can use more money in your pocket? I think everyone here is raising their hand. So let’s talk about how you can have more money in your pocket by working. There’s some, the good news is when Social Security is deciding how much your SSI supplemental security income should be after you go to work, they don’t count all of your earnings; they count less than half of your earnings when you start back to work. When I was thinking about starting back to work, I wanted to interview at the local bank because I thought wow, that’s going to put more money in my pocket. I like that. But then my friend stopped me and rained on my parade a little bit and she said “Laurie, you don’t want to do that. You can only earn $65 a month before you lose everything – your Medicaid, your SSI. You really don’t want to do that.” And I saw the panic in her eyes when I talked about working. I thought she was going to hyperventilate. I didn’t know if she needed to do some meditation when I talked about going to work. So that derailed me from really starting to work. I didn’t want to lose everything. It seemed like the world was going to end so I didn’t go back to work. But the way the program works, I always like to think of us as myth-busters with the ghostbuster theme song. When you hear something weird, you call us, you know, to sort through the myths out there. But as we go through this, you’ll see that she only knew a little bit of the formula. She didn’t go all the way through the formula with me.

General Income Exclusion

The first exclusion Social Security has, and this means they are going to ignore your earnings from work. They’re not going to take away your earnings that you received from work. They’re ignoring some of your earnings. So the first one is the general income exclusion and that’s $20. So right off the top, they’re going to say we are not going to count the first $20 you earn a month. Now don’t ask me how and why they chose $20. They have a thing for anything with twos in it, sixes, eights and sevens. They really like those numbers.

Neva: Maybe they forgot a couple of zeros or something.

Laurie: Yeah, I think so. After the $20 exclusion, they’re going to say we don’t want to count any of this money either. We’re just going to count $65. We are going to ignore the next $65. So, let’s say you go to work and you are able to earn $885 well now, they just have you down as earning $800 which that’s good news from you because when earnings from work goes up, your earnings from SSI goes down. So you don’t want them to count all of your earnings. Now, after that $85, they’re going to divide by two your countable income and in that example, instead of the 885 that they are going to count, they’re only going to count $400 of that when they are deciding how low to go with that SSI check. So you know most people freak out when I get to that part. You know, they’re going to subtract $400 from my SSI check. That’s not good because I was getting $733. But you have to add back into the equation what you are earning from work. And that’s over a $1000 in your pocket by working than not working. Oh, now I will say that when I received my first full time working job offer, I was so excited! I was, like, “yay.” I’m going to get to go shopping this weekend and really get some wardrobe. But then the party was halted when I thought about my Medicaid benefits and insurance and then I flashed back to that well-meaning friend that said you’re going to lose everything if you earn over $65. But I had a good benefits counselor that said if the reason why you lose your SSI cash payment is because of working, you are still going to get to keep your Medicaid and still be eligible anytime your earnings drop down to get an SSI check.

Medicaid Benefits

The code to keep Medicaid is 1619B and that has been a godsend for me because I can work fulltime and still keep my Medicaid and attendant care and all that. And Medicaid pays for my attendant care so if I were to lose that benefit, then I wouldn’t see a real gain. Because you know, I do have a lot of attendant care to help me be independent in the community. So when Linda said insurance is a good thing, it really is for beneficiaries. It’s not the 733, you know, no one is really that worried about that money. It’s the Medicaid Medicare, you know, and being able to afford all the medical expenses.

Work Incentives Related to SSI


Now there are some work incentives that will put more money back into the SSI cash payment. A little bit more ways they can ignore some of your money from work and one of them is PASS plan. Plan for Achieving Self Support. It’s a self-funded program. Like if you have a goal and you need to save money in order to reach that goal, you can throw out a PASS plan and you know it’s a map to where I want to be. Like, I want to be a social worker but I need a car in order to get to work. I need special software. You can save money and not be fearful of losing your SSI that way too. You can put things in there like start up money to do self-employment and that kind of thing. And we’ll help you write your PASS plan if you are interested. So be sure Linda to call more information on that asset building program. And then Linda has talked about in the other program about impairment related work expenses. It’s the same kind of deal with SSI but what I want to really focus on is Blind Work Expense.

Blind Work Expense

Blind work expense can put more money back into the SSI cash payment when they are looking at your earnings. And this is like related work on steroids because you can count of just about everything as a blind work expense. It doesn’t have to be related to or connected to a condition. It can be work related like lunches at work, your taxes, just a lot of different things. So you’ll want to be sure to report your blind work expenses to Social Security when you report your earnings from work so they can put that money back into the SSI cash payment. Linda also talked about Section 301, if a medical recovery were to happen, you would still be able to keep your benefits. Like if you were doing a program like DARS or DBS, you could keep your benefits until that program is over. So, I’ll hand it back over to Linda so she can talk about how to get ahold of us for individual benefits planning. And thank you so much for having us today.

Linda: Thanks a lot. Great job, Laurie and thank you so much for sharing. We are located at 1420 Hemphill St. at Fort Worth. Please feel free to telephone. My name again is Linda Baker. My telephone number is 817-759-7929 or you can email me at And thank you, Neva, for this opportunity.

Neva: Thank you.

Question: If people live outside the Dallas Fort Worth Area, are there similar resources there that they can talk to?

Linda: Oh, yes, but realize that we serve 12 counties in North Texas but there are other WIPA Programs throughout the state and they can find those by, actually you can google them.

Question: What about those that they live in other states?

Linda: I’m sorry. Yes, they are throughout the United States.

Question: So google WIPA?

Linda: W-I-P-A.