Workers who are off employment and on disability benefits granted after a comprehensive medical records review to establish the disability are often hesitant to get back to work mainly out of fear of losing the benefits. In Maine, for instance, the state needs more workers than ever before and is set to see a shortage of at least 111,000 workers over the next 2 decades. More people are choosing to retire than join the labor force. The state could utilize a significant group of workers available, i.e. those with disabilities. In Maine, almost 85,000 people in the age group 18 to 64 are receiving SSDI, SSI or both. This group however, are afraid that they may lose their disability benefits, mainly MaineCare which is the state’s version of Medicaid. The problem is that if they make above a certain income they will lose their benefits.
Though there are programs available that can help people with disabilities get back to work, most workers are not aware of these. Those who want to return to work need to understand how their federal and state benefits will change if they return to full-time work.
Options for those on SSDI, disabled adult child, and disable widow(er) benefits are as follows.
- Trial work period: When you are receiving disability benefits, you can get a trial work period during which you can work as much as you want. In this case, there is no limit on your income and no risk of losing your disability check. The trial period can be up to nine months; you need not work consecutively for the nine months. This is a practical way of finding a suitable job for oneself, the number of hours one is capable of working, and other details.
- Extended period of eligibility: Your benefits remain for up to three years after the trial work period, and you can continue to receive a check for every month you don’t make above a determined threshold. This extended period of eligibility ensures financial security for the disability benefit recipient. If you earn below the threshold, you receive your monthly check. If you reach the threshold, you don’t.In 2017, this threshold is $1,170 for a person who is not blind, and $1,950 for someone who is blind. People earning above the threshold can deduct the cost of disability related equipment orservices that help them work with their disability to adjust their qualifying income level.
- Medicare coverage for an extended period: If you are disabled and on Medicare, you can continue receiving Medicare coverage for at least 7 years and 9 months after your trial work period ends, irrespective of the income you receive.
- Expedited reinstatement of benefits: If the Social Security Administration has stopped your benefits because of work activity, and you find you are unable to continue working, you can apply for the quick benefits restart option. There is no need to reapply. This benefits restart option is available within 5 years of terminating benefits. The SSA will provide 6 months of provisional benefits while it reopens your file and determines if you are still eligible for the benefits.
- The MaineCare option for workers with disabilities: Workers with disabilities who are over the regular income limit can opt for the MaineCare buy-in option. You can pay in at a maximum of $20 a month to retain your MaineCare benefits. For 2017, workers who earn up to $2,513 per month are eligible for this option. Only half of a worker’s job earnings are taken into consideration to determine eligibility. However, all “unearned income” or income not earned from a job is considered toward that limit. This unearned income would include disability benefits such as SSDI or SSI, retirement benefits and veteran’s benefits. To qualify for the MaineCare option, all unearned income should be less than $1,005 a month if single, or $1,354 if married.
A good work incentive for those receiving SSI benefits is 1619 (b).
Provision 1619 (b) allows a person who meets every other requirement for SSI except for the income requirement to earn more money while still staying on MaineCare. This option is not available for those receiving SSDI benefits. For 2017, those using this option in Maine can earn up to $35,735. This amount may vary each year.
People may be allowed to earn money on the basis of other factors, such as higher-than-average medical costs. This is determined on a case by case basis. The SSA makes the final determinations in deciding a person’s individualized threshold amount.
Both SSDI and SSI recipients can opt for private health insurance premium. Disabled people can sign up for private insurance (which will be their primary insurance provider) and also retain MaineCare. A majority of the healthcare costs will be covered by the private insurance company. MaineCare would reimburse deductibles, copays and premiums along with the required services that are covered under MaineCare but not under the private insurance. To be eligible for this option, you or someone in your family must be enrolled in MaineCare and also have a private insurance that is less expensive than regular Maine coverage. The final determination in this regard is made by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
With long-term experience providing medical record review for attorneys, we know how helpful and constructive counseling is to people with disabilities, and that is what social security disability lawyers strive to ensure their clients who wish to claim disability benefits. Similarly, to gain more understanding of the return-to-work incentives benefits counselors are essential in each state. In many states including Maine, there is a shortage of such counselors. In Maine, for example, there are only six community work incentive coordinators who have to serve clients across the state. They serve around 1,000 clients a year. Observers in the field believe that we need more of these benefits specialists to ensure all disabled people looking to return to work are served well and receive the appropriate information. They are indispensable for those who have been on disability and don’t know how to get off. By increasing the number of community work incentive coordinators and ensuring funding doesn’t lapse, state a federal governments can get more disabled people back to work and prevent shortage of workers.