March 17, 2009

THE TERMINATION STORY

Work incentives from Social Security may enable consumers to earn more money and remain eligible for benefits programs

—by Matthew K. Weiland and Paul M. Kubek

This story took place when Steve Shober, BS, LSW, was just getting started in benefits planning, before the agency with which he worked had a formal benefits-planning service. One day, the agency received a telephone call of panic from the sister of a consumer who had received a letter from the Social Security Administration. The letter stated that her brother's cash benefits (non-earned income) would be ending, because he was making enough money from his job not to need the benefits any more.

Steve agreed to take the case and to meet with the consumer and his sister, who was the consumer's payee: she had legal oversight of her brother's finances. With the consumer's permission, Steve did a lot of research. It took him almost 80 hours to help the consumer resolve this situation. It could have taken them five to 10 minutes a month to prevent the crisis and manage the situation. Listen below to Steve's reflection upon the lessons learned in this story. Here are a few helpful bits of information that this story illustrates.

Benefits circumstances are always in-flux

Benefits situations are never set in stone. They are always changing. A few factors that might contribute to the flux include the following:

  • Rules of benefits programs change (e.g., earned-income limits change each year, depending on several factors, for example, the condition of the economy)
  • Employment status of consumer changes (e.g., from part time to full time, layoff, medical leave)
  • Number of hours worked in a month by consumer may increase or decrease
  • Amount of income earned in a month by consumer may increase or decrease

Facts to know to prepare for potential changes in benefits

  • What are the "income limits" of the Social Security Administration's benefits programs (e.g., SSI, SSDI) and other benefits programs? . . . A person can earn X amount of money and still receive (be eligible for) benefits. If a person earns more than X amount, he or she will become ineligible.
  • How much income did the consumer earn this month?
  • How much income might the consumer earn next month? Will this put him or her under the income limits of benefits programs or over the limits?
  • Are there "work incentives" available from benefits programs that might enable consumers to earn a little more than the income limits set by those benefits programs?

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.) What Do You Want to Do? (2m, 14s)
The consumer's sister was his payee, meaning she had legal oversight of her brother's finances, but this situation was about the consumer's benefits. So Steve began the conversation by laying out the facts and the options, then he asked the consumer, not the payee, what he wanted to do. It was an important gesture of respect for consumer preferences.
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2.) Work Incentives Might Help (2m, 42s)
The consumer liked his job and wanted to keep working, but the work was draining and he was not sure if he could continue the pace. He did not want to lose (become ineligible for) his benefits, because he would need them in the event he no longer could work at current capacity. Steve recommended they look into a work incentive called a "subsidy" from Social Security, which takes into account extra supports that consumers receive, such as job coaching.
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3.) Being Prepared for a Reduction in Hours (1m, 32s)
As the consumer was submitting his request for the subsidy (work incentive) from Social Security, his hours were cut. So, with his benefits intact, he was still able to maintain a stable financial situation. . . . Steve notes that Social Security might send letters to recipients of SSDI stating that they do not have to report their income until it reaches a certain amount. Steve recommends that people play it safe and report monthly no matter what, so there is a routine of communication and, thus, less probability for error.
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4.) Ten Minutes a Month Can Prevent a Big Crisis (3m, 4s)
While it took 80 hours for Steve to help this consumer find a solution, it could have been a five- to 10-minute process each month. The request for the subsidy (work incentive) could have been submitted up front, with a form-letter from the Social Security web site.
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5.) 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 Benefits Planning eConsults (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.