Navigating Benefits and Work
Success Stories of Year Two of the BPAO Project
If you are on Social Security (also known as SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and are working or considering going to work, learning how to manage your benefits and earned income are instrumental to the longevity of your disability claim. The Benefits Planning, Assistance and Outreach (BPAO) program, funded through the Social Security Administration (SSA) to AIDS Project Los Angeles, was developed to aid you, the recipient (SSI) and/or beneficiary (SSDI), by making you aware of the many work incentives that exist.
A Positive Impact
After two years counseling consumers on the Social Security work rules, I have seen lasting and positive effects on those who live, receive and depend on disability incomes. Over the last year, APLA's Benefits Program has seen more than 400 consumers who depend on their SSA income for the most basic necessities of life. Consequently, the loss of these federal benefits is a major concern for beneficiaries and recipients of Social Security and SSI.
Overcoming the fear of losing one's SSA benefits is a necessary step in helping those who are feeling better and living longer to increase and supplement their monthly incomes. Many of you have shared with me the many success stories of how you have managed to wade through the difficult SSA rules regarding work and want to share how some of these may influence the future of the disability community who are returning to work.
Reduction or Elimination of Overpayments
Over the last couple of years, we have seen more than 100 cases of Social Security overpayments.
Of these overpayments, we have successfully resolved 25 percent to the consumer's satisfaction. I have encountered many cases where a beneficiary did everything in their power to report their earnings diligently and in a timely manner but it still resulted in an overpayment. We are happy to say that many SSA offices cooperate more with a BPAO counselor because they know that their recipients are being properly educated and informed on how work impacts their cash benefits.
Furthermore, where reporting was not successfully accomplished, we can help train on accurate reporting and bookkeeping strategies that will prevent or reduce the incidence of overpayments in the future.
Transition to Part-Time Employment
For those who receive SSDI, knowing the rules for the Trial Work Period (TWP) can be very challenging.
I have helped beneficiaries who are not yet ready to begin full-time employment to manage both their cash benefit and work earnings. A good way to do this is to slowly transition back to employment on a limited basis, teaching the necessary skills that will enable consumers to know the SSA rules.
Through our Work Services program, we have successfully placed close to 15 percent of our beneficiaries in part-time employment. While at least 50 percent are still looking for employment, we are seeing a trend of beneficiaries slowly transitioning back into the work force.
Medi-Cal and Health Insurance
Medi-Cal (known as Medicaid outside California) is one of the lifelines that sustains your health. It is also a major factor in deciding whether you feel it is in your best interest to engage in work activity.
Knowing the rules on how wages affect Medi-Cal is instrumental because Medi-Cal is what covers prescription drug costs for those living with AIDS and HIV (in addition to the California AIDS Drug Assistance Program commonly known as ADAP). In some cases we can help you calculate your Medi-Cal Share of Cost (if there is one) when you returns to work.
Medi-Cal accounts for close to 60 percent of our recipients' health insurance. Explaining the rules for how Medi-Cal is affected by wages is one of our main responsibilities.
Other federal health plans, like Medicare, are also covered and we have seen the relieved expressions on many people's faces when they find out that after successfully transitioning to full-time employment they can extend their Medicare for up to eight years.
Peace of Mind
The direct goals of the BPAO program have been to help you successfully transition back to employment, manage your health benefits and for those who need training or cross-training, to find ways of financing your education.
As certified Social Security BPAO counselors, my colleagues and I have seen a growing number of beneficiaries reduce or eliminate their overpayments, start businesses and return to work with greater success.
In my experience, direct contact with the Social Security Administration can discourage so many from supplementing their monthly income or from transitioning to complete independence from a limited lifestyle on disability income. However, the greater goal of the BPAO program has been to help create a safety net where you are going to have the peace of mind, the tools and the advocates to safeguard your benefits.
As we move into year three, the new Ticket to Work will empower even more consumers to work without the immediate loss of their benefits. As the Ticket to Work rolls out in 2003, the BPAO stands ready to help consumers plan, to assist them, and to help provide the outreach to the disabled community as a whole on myriad of rules and regulations to help them make the most informed decisions they can.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.