Learning how to embrace their relationship with SSA is a necessity for all beneficiaries. Because of this reality, there are many common questions that ticket holders pose to ENs. “How will going to work affect my disability benefit?” is the most pressing and important to them. Beneficiaries are often concerned about losing their healthcare coverage when or if they will lose their cash benefit, and if working will render them ineligible for disability benefits if/when needed in the future. Let’s keep in mind that the lack of the ability to work at SGA was the criteria for them to receive SSI, SSDI (or both) to start with and several people went through years of financial stress and often the absence of healthcare prior to “going on the rolls.”
Historically, the field of rehabilitation counseling paid little attention to making sure that practitioners knew about SSA work incentives and beneficiaries were given misinformation or no information at all. However, it is at the very point when beneficiaries are sitting down to discuss their employment plans when they need to understand that the “risk” they are getting ready to take by attempting to go back to work is safer than they have come to believe. Rather than encouraging clients, we held people back from working entirely or kept people from working at their highest potential.
Thankfully, more of us have come to recognize SSA Work Incentives training and education as not only a “good thing to do,” but integral to the achievement of employment outcomes by our clients through the services we provide. Two advantages are listed here:
“Take a Chance”
Knowledge of SSA work incentives is perhaps the most convincing way to move people towards making attempts to work. If a client is concerned about the loss to the medical and/or cash portion of their disability benefit or that they will not be able to access their benefit later, it is unlikely they will try at all. Who can blame them? If, however, they can learn about the work incentives associated with their benefit. Understand the time-table related to their benefits. How and when they can restore their benefits. They are much more likely to try employment and stay employed. This message to ENs is pure and simple that lasting employment is what gets us paid.
“Knowledge is Power”
I am referring to the empowerment of both counselors and beneficiaries. For counselors, you show an understanding of your clients’ total life “picture,” and an interest in the quality of your services. This can be accomplished by being able to accurately address questions yourself and/or by coordinating work incentives planning through another service provider, such as, the local Work Incentives Planning Agency (WIPA). Again, this knowledge will not only strengthen you professionally, but will also result in employment outcomes for your clients.
For beneficiaries, the knowledge of SSA work incentives brings a sense of control over a system that they fear. Initially, I discussed the work incentives with my clients; however, I would do all of the reporting, complete work reviews and corresponded with SSA regarding specific clients. It then occurred to me that I would better serve my clients long-term to train them to manage their own relationships with SSA. I began equipping them with the information and documentation expected by SSA to assist them directly and now serve my clients primarily as a resource only. Once the experiences success, beneficiaries fell empowered and less fearful in their dealings with SSA. These lessons bring relief to them that lasts a lifetime.
Formal vs. Informal Training
The type of training you choose depends on your budget or the budget of the organization you represent. Some counselors opt to become “certified” as community work incentive coordinators (CWICs) via classes, coursework and testing. The depth and range of learning is substantial. It covers SSI, SSDI, concurrent beneficiaries, Medicaid, and Medicare. In addition, segments pertaining to public assistance programs (rental assistance, food stamps, etc.) are taught, to include, eligibility for and responsibilities related to employment and reporting earnings to each entity that provides supports to individual clients.
You may decide that you cannot commit to the time or expense of becoming a CWIC and, therefore, can educate yourself through more self-directed means. There are free webinars and websites that you can use. Also consider visiting with and asking questions of SSA field office personnel and with your local WIPA staff.
No matter what you choose to do in order to become educated about SSA work incentives; we must all remember to seek assistance when unsure of the material, and to continue our education over time in order to stay current with threshold levels, and any other related SSA information. The worse thing we can do is pass inaccurate SSA work incentives information on to our clients and their families.
Where to Get Training
SSA Red Book, Guide to Work Incentives https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/
CWIC (Community Work Incentives Coordinator) Training
Virginia Commonwealth University CWIC training https://vcu-ntdc.org/index.cfm
Cornell University CWIC training http://www.edi.cornell.edu/m-cessi-webinars.cfm