• 9 things you can do today

    Part 7 of a conversation with Steve Shober, BS, LSW, about the importance of benefits planning. Steve knows that most service providers do not need or want to be experts in benefits counseling. Yet, he also knows that, with some basic information, they can help people with disabilities make more informed decisions about their financial futures. Here are 9 easy things you can do today.

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March 16, 2009

TAKE-HOME TIPS

9 things you can do today

—by Matthew K. Weiland and Paul M. Kubek

There are full-time benefits planners who understand many of the ins, outs, complexities, and nuances of benefits programs like Social Security (e.g., SSI, SSDI), Medicaid, and Medicare. Then, there is everybody else—service providers not needing or wanting to be experts with benefits but to be informed enough to help people make informed decisions about their financial futures. Steve Shober, BS, LSW, is trying to reach this group. He has an important message.

Steve knows from his experience as a vocational specialist in an Ohio mental-health agency that case managers, employment specialists, and other providers are in the perfect position to complement the work of full-time benefits planners. Case managers and employment specialists work regularly with consumers and, thus, are more likely to get to know them as individuals, including their concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams. They have a good chance to build a trusting relationship (therapeutic alliance) and provide some basic benefits-planning services to support job searches and long-term employment.

Steve recommends that service providers learn the basics of benefits programs and benefits planning to help people plan ahead, prevent crises, and make the best decisions possible for their individual circumstances. In this audio eConsult, Steve provides 9 easy strategies (habits) for making basic benefits planning a part of daily work routines.

THE CONVERSATION

This is one installment in a collection of stories from conversations with Steve Shober, BS, LSW, about the importance of benefits planning. Steve is a former vocational specialist, job coach, and benefits counselor who works as a consultant and trainer at the Ohio Supported Employment Coordinating Center of Excellence (SE CCOE), an initiative of the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University.


1.) Report Income Monthly, Part 1: Get to Know People at Benefits Programs (2m, 25s)
Keep the benefits mojo working. ... Many problems with benefits occur because people do not report their earned-income to benefits programs like Social Security. It is important to help consumers develop and implement a plan for reporting their income monthly. Also, get to know the name of a knowledgeable person in each office of benefits programs, so you and the people you serve have someone reliable to call upon for help. Here’s a short list of government agencies that likely have benefits offices in or near your community:
  • Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA)
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Housing authority
  • Job and Family Services (JFS)
  • Veteran’s Administration (VA)

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2.) Pay Close Attention to Medicaid Benefits (1m, 32s)
People diagnosed with severe mental illness rely upon medical insurance from programs like Medicaid, which will pay for the psychiatric medications that help them manage symptoms. These medications may cost up to or more than $1,000 per month. Many people fear they will lose their Medicaid benefits if they get a job and earn a paycheck. Therefore, they are often hesitant about looking for a job, even though they wish for one.
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3.) Learn the Basics of Benefits Programs, Use the Knowledge Regularly (1m, 59s)
The more you apply your knowledge of benefits programs to real-world situations, the more confident you will be in your ability to understand and interpret the information and, thus, communicate it accurately to consumers. It's a key skill for helping consumers make informed decisions for themselves. Common benefits programs utilized by adults diagnosed with disabilities include the following:
  • Social Security (SSI, SSDI)
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Housing subsidies

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4.) Teach Family Members about Benefits Programs (50s)
Sometimes family members discourage consumers from pursuing their employment dreams because they fear the job will cause a decrease in cash benefits like SSI and, thus, cause a decrease in household income. Family members might not realize that money from a paycheck typically exceeds the cash benefit from SSI. So, ask consumers if they wouldn't mind if you talk to their kin. Family members who support a consumer's back-to-work journey are supporting potential recovery success.
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5.) Visit the Social Security Office (0m, 56s)
It's an important part of the recovery process to let consumers interact on a regular basis with people in the Social Security office, so they make the contacts and gain the confidence to ask questions and solve problems for themselves. It's the perfect opportunity for service providers to tag along and not do for consumers but to do with or to stand-by for support.
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6.) Report Income Monthly, Part 2: Recruiting Family and Friends to Help (1m, 17s)
Ask consumers if it will help to include members of their social-support networks (e.g., their payee, family members, friends) in their effort to develop and implement a plan for reporting their income every month.
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7.) Forewarn People about Letters from Social Security (2m, 23s)
Once people start earning a regular paycheck from a job, they will likely get a letter from Social Security alerting them to a potential reduction in their SSI or SSDI benefits. Let people know up front that they will likely receive these letters and encourage them to stay calm and bring the letters into your office so you can help them interpret the information. Remember, SSI benefits typically decrease when someone earns money from a job. However, the paycheck often provides more than SSI ever will.
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8.) Ask Consumers Regularly about Their Employment Status (56s)
If you don't ask people specific questions about their employment status, they might not remember to tell you. If they forget to report changes in income to benefits programs on a monthly basis, there might be some big problems in the near or distant future, such as the overpayment of benefits and required paybacks. Here are some questions to ask regularly/monthly:
  • Are you working?
  • Have your hours increased or decreased this month?
  • Has your hourly wage increased or decreased?
  • Has your total income increased or decreased?
  • Have you reported your income to your benefits programs this month? Did you go to the benefits offices?
  • If you haven't reported your income, is there a way we can help you do this?
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9.) Learn to Interpret Reports from the Benefits Experts (2m, 50s)
Full-time benefits planners (the experts) use mathematical formulas from each benefits program to help determine the amount of benefits for which each consumer is eligible. The reports from these consultations are often comprehensive, but they can also be overwhelming and confusing. This is why it is helpful for case managers, employment specialists, and other mental health and vocational rehabilitation providers to understand the basics of benefits programs. They help consumers interpret the information, and, thus, make it relevant for their circumstances, as well as their concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams.
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10.) Sign Off (0m, 44s)
A production of the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University—a partnership of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case and the Department of Psychiatry at the Case School of Medicine.
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BENEFITS PLANNING SERIES

Get a list of all the stories in the Benefits Planning eConsult Series (click here).


Matthew K. Weiland, MA, is senior writer and producer and Paul M. Kubek, MA, is director of communications at the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University—a partnership of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case and the Department of Psychiatry at the Case School of Medicine.