By Sarah Lyngdal, NENA Secretary
Ticket to Work Program Manager, Employment Resources, Inc.
When Social Security disability beneficiaries start to consider a return to work, their biggest question is: How much can I earn without impacting my benefits? For many it is the deciding factor about how much they will work and earn when they find a job. But there is a lot of misinformation out there and beneficiaries are sometimes clinging to the wrong numbers without realizing it.
I am a big believer that all ticketholders considering work should begin by getting work incentives benefits counseling from a trained and reputable source. The key to a successful return to work journey is being able to prepare for benefit changes before they happen. A work incentives benefits counselor can verify benefits, explain how earnings will impact state and federal benefits, and outline action items when there are changes to the ticketholder’s situation - including finding a job.
Benefits counseling services can be provided in a variety of forms. Initially benefits counseling can include information and referral, or more in-depth services like a report about benefits, work incentives, income limits and timelines. The information in the report is specific to the ticketholder. An important part of the report explains when and how to report earnings to Social Security. Ongoing benefits counseling can include assistance with reporting work, filling out necessary paperwork, interpreting correspondence from both Social Security and state agencies that provide benefits, and resolving benefits issues. Employment Networks can also help the ticketholder monitor work incentives and timelines and ensure that paperwork is submitted promptly to have a greater chance of avoiding overpayments.
The decision to return to work, begin working for the first time, or increase work can be a difficult one for the ticketholders we serve. Understanding how income-sensitive benefits can be affected by work earnings and managing those benefits can add even more stress and fear to the decision. As Ticket to Work providers, we can use benefits counseling services to educate ticketholders about their benefits, discuss options to maintain needed health insurance coverage, and hopefully alleviate some of the concerns around budgeting.
Unfortunately, not all return-to-work efforts are seamless. If a ticketholder’s job ends or their hours are reduced, this can affect eligibility for benefits. A benefits counselor can help the ticketholder explore their options and assist with the process of getting cash benefits and health coverage reinstated, allowing the ticketholder to focus on the things that will help them get back to work or increase their hours.
Furthermore, the support provided through benefits counseling can help ticketholders focus more on their job and career goals and abate some of their fears about benefits when working. Benefits counseling helps ticketholders make informed decisions about work and offers peace of mind in knowing the options and safety nets available with Social Security work incentives. In my opinion, it is the most important service we can offer our ticketholders.
The Ticket to Work program published a great Fact Sheet about Benefits Counseling and the Path to Employment. You can find it here: https://choosework.ssa.gov/library/fact-sheet-benefits-counseling-and-the-path-to-employment
Looking for Benefits Counseling Training?
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) CWIC and Community Partner Initial Training and Certification: https://vcu-ntdc.org/training/initial/initial.cfm
Cornell Work Incentives Planning and Utilization for Benefit Practitioners: https://www.ytionline.org/courses
Cost: Fees vary