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Video: A Look at Title XVI (SSI) Benefits

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This 2-hour video series, broken down into chapters, features two benefits planners who discuss SSI rules and share their insights.

Module 1:
Buck (animated character) (00:01):
Hi, I’m Buck. Just a quick note that most of the figures used in this training update each year, I’ll be popping in to give you the latest figures as needed. Thanks for your attention. Let’s get to it.

Susan Harrell (00:20):
Hello. Thank you for joining us for “How Public Benefits Support Employment”. We’ll be looking at Supplemental Security Income in this module. And I want to start off by just introducing ourselves. I’m Susan Harrell, and I’ve worked for the Washington initiative for Supported Employment. I’ve worked for them for the last 20 years. But prior to that, I was working in this field first as a provider of individual employment services, clear back in 1985, and then as a consultant through the nineties to a variety of different customers, including counties in the state of Washington. My focus throughout has been on employment for people with significant disabilities. And along the way, I did a lot of work on public benefits and the way in which employment might impact those benefits so that I can help people make informed choices. So I’m happy to be here today to share some of that information with you. Scott?

Scott Leonard (01:21):
Yeah. Hi, my name is Scott Leonard. I’ve worked in the field of supporting people with developmental disabilities for over 20 years. And for 15 of those years, I helped people navigate through different government systems. And so Susan, you and I have talked about this, when people get benefits from the government, they often don’t receive a lot of information about how these benefits work. In addition, they also don’t really receive a roadmap. How do you connect the different benefits in your lifetime?
Right? So as a Benefits Planner or what I’ve done is help people navigate through these different government systems to access the benefits that they need, and in the process they learn about the rules around employment…that you can work and that you can make money and there’s opportunities to build wealth in the process. And it’s been great having that opportunity to share that with individuals and support them on their journey to become successfully employed.

Susan Harrell (02:16):
Now for our agenda, we’ll be covering SSI and talking about Supplemental Security Income in an overview, and then we will also be discussing living arrangements and income because both living arrangements and income can impact the amount of the benefit that somebody receives. And income includes both earned and unearned income types, which you will be covering more, shortly here. And then we want to talk about Work Incentives and Work Incentives are these tools that you can utilize to enhance the amount of benefit you receive, or the kinds of things that you can access through your benefits as you are going to work and maintaining those efforts over time. And then finally, we’ll be talking about Resource Protection because really it’s not just about income when it comes to Supplemental Security Income or SSI, it’s about resources as well. Resources and or income and living situations can impact that benefit amount since it is a low income benefit.

Susan Harrell (03:27):
So why is understanding SSI and Work Incentives so important? Well, we know from our experience that people get very afraid about what’s going to happen to their benefits and may misunderstand what’s going on. When they start to see their benefits impacted across time, as they increase their work efforts. That fear and misunderstanding can really get in the way of the success of the individual in employment. It also prevents the possibility of crisis because individuals are better informed about what they are responsible to do and the impact of the things that they are doing in the process of becoming employed

or receiving other income or support in their living situation. And if you don’t know those things, it still may impact your benefit amount. So the more that we could share with individuals, the better off they are in preventing these large overpayments that we’ve seen people sometimes experience, which can be really frightening when you have limited income and really this very, very small benefit in the first place, but it’s what you rely on. The additional things that happen are that people can learn that they can earn and save money. We’re going to talk about some ways that they can remain eligible for SSI and increase their savings over time. So we can really help improve the quality of their life by giving them these additional ways, these additional tools for Resource Protection. And ultimately we know that it improves employment and economic outcomes. A study that was done with the state of Vermont many years ago showed that benefits planning services result in increased employment rates, increased earnings, and interestingly enough, decreased medical expenses because people, when they are contributing in their communities, which is what they’re doing through employment tend to be healthier. And therefore it decreases the medical expenses.

Scott Leonard (05:34):
So let’s start off by talking about a brief history of Social Security. It creates a context so you can understand the different benefit programs that are available for people with disabilities. So Social Security actually didn’t start until 1935 and it was in response to the Great Depression. So people had worked their entire lives and saved money. And then when the Depression hit, they lost some, or all of those funds. There was no safety net for individuals. So they created Social Security. And this is a way now that we are paying FICA taxes, paying into Social Security so that we have retirement benefit available to us. This created retirement benefits for individuals. Now, at the time, there was nothing for people with disabilities. That didn’t start until 1954, and that’s when they created Social Security Disability Insurance. So Disability Insurance is a benefit that we all pay into when we’re working. And if we become disabled and it affects our ability to work, we may qualify for some Social Security Disability Insurance. What they also created at this time was the benefit called Disabled Adult Children or DAC.

Scott Leonard (06:43):
And this is actually a benefit available for people who have a disability that started when they were under the age of 22. And now they are an adult. If their parent retires and collects retirement benefits or becomes disabled and collects Disability Benefits or dies and could have qualified for benefits from Social Security, the adult son or daughter may be eligible to collect a benefit based off of the parent’s work history. So at that time in 1954, disability benefits were based around a person’s work history or a parent’s work history. It wasn’t until 1972 that they created SSI. And this is a benefit program that’s available for people who are aged, blind, and disabled, and they have economic needs. Perhaps they don’t have much of a work history, so they haven’t qualified for SSDI. And so they are able to get some funds to help them pay for their basic food and shelter needs. This benefit is also called Title XVI and Supplemental Security Income is managed by Social Security, but the money comes from a different pot of funds.

Module 2:
Scott Leonard (00:00):
Let’s talk about the definition of disability. It’s one of those things that we could talk about for a long time, but we’re just going to touch upon it here. So a disability for Social Security purposes is defined as the following: First, the disability must be considered to be substantial. And what that means is that it results in the inability to work at what’s called Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA. And you may hear SGA at different times throughout the trainings that we do now, but come on in here and show us the latest SGA figures.

Scott Leonard (00:39):
Let’s take a look at these numbers. First, you’ll see that there are two different SGA amounts. One is for people who do not experience blindness and the other is for people who are considered blind by Social Security’s definition.

Susan Harrell (00:52):
What do these amounts mean?

Scott Leonard (00:55):
Well, right…They are used by Social Security to determine if a person is working at Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA. So if a person is not blind and their monthly countable earnings are above the non blind SGA amount, they may be considered as performing SGA. Likewise, if a person is blind and their monthly countable earnings are above the blind SGA amount, the person may be considered as performing SGA. Also, it’s important to know that these figures tend to go up each year. So it’s important that people stay up to date with the most current SGA figures.

Susan Harrell (01:44):
Scott, this raises a question. I see that the blind SGA amount is much higher than the non blind SGA amount. Why are they so different?

Scott Leonard (01:53):
Yeah, that’s actually, that’s a good question, Susan. So my understanding is that the blind community had really good lobbyists and they were able to lobby for a different set of rules around their Social Security benefits. That’s my understanding, is that your understanding as well?

Susan Harrell (02:11):
Yes. In fact, this is not the only place you see people with blindness having a different set of rules. There is a work incentive that you will see later in this training that is available only to people who experience blindness.

Scott Leonard (02:27):
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting for sure, and it, it shows the power of lobbying around these matters. So getting back to this definition of disability we talked about how a disability must be considered substantial, in that it results in the inability to work at SGA. Now, in addition to this, a disability must be considered terminal, which means it will result in death, or longterm, which means that the person is disabling condition has lasted or can be to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. One more thing about the definition of disability. This definition applies to all people when they first apply for

benefits. Now, if a person becomes eligible for SSI, the SGA component of this definition no longer applies.

Susan Harrell (03:20):
Now, keep in mind, this is specific to just SSI. If you receive a different Social Security disability benefit, there are other rules that call into attention, this SGA component on a long-term basis, but we will be discussing that in the Title II SSDI training, which you may be interested in taking.

Susan Harrell (03:49):
So Social Security has two disability benefit programs. And the first one that we’re going to be covering is the one that was established in 1954, which is that Title II program. And covers Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. It also covers the Social Security for an adult child of an individual who is retired, deceased or disabled. And that is known as Social Security Childhood Disability Benefits or SSCDB. And that previously was known as Social Security for the Disabled Adult Child. Well, we bring that up primarily because there are certain things in the world of Medicaid where they still use that term SSDAC or DAC. So we’ll probably hold that and keep that in mind. As we move towards talking about medical benefits in a future module. Now, some people call these Title II benefits, SSA, or regular Social Security. Have you heard them do the same?

Scott Leonard (04:53):

Susan Harrell (04:54):
And usually that’s a great point or that they’re not talking about Supplemental Security Income or SSI. People usually know exactly what that benefit is, and they will call it out separately, the Supplemental Security Income, and that’s very different than the terms that they use for that Title II SSDI or SSCDB benefit. And, you know, Scott, I didn’t mention earlier, but under Title II, there’s also Social Security for Widows or Widowers who have a disability. And we have not spoken about that. We probably will not cover that a great deal in this series because it’s such a small window of time in which somebody is eligible for that benefit, but it also falls under those Title II benefits. For this session, though, we are going to be focused solely on Title XVI, SSI, or Supplemental Security Income.

Susan Harrell (05:55):
How do people qualify for SSI? Because it’s a general tax fund program, it does not tap into monies that are in the Social Security trust fund. It is defined for people who have limited income and limited resources. In other words, it’s for people who are aged, blind, or disabled, who are of limited income or limited resources, and don’t have a long work history or someone else who has a work history that they could tap into those Social Security trust fund benefits…for. So limited income, we’re going to talk more about what that means, and then resources of less than $2,000 for an individual or for a couple it’s resources of less than $3,000. So in other words, there’s really not twice the resources for a married couple. There’s just one and a half times the resources.

Scott Leonard (06:53):
So Susan, I have a question I found that people often get confused about income and resources. How are those two different?

Susan Harrell (07:03):
Right, so I think probably the easiest illustration would be that if somebody gives me a bunch of money in the middle of the month, that when they give me the money, when I receive it it’s income. But as of the beginning of the very next month, very first moment of that very next month, if I’m retaining those dollars, then it is a resource and it may count, it does count towards the resource limit and it may make me ineligible for benefits.

Scott Leonard (07:33):
So the resources are only looked at at the first of the month?

Susan Harrell (07:36):
Yes. And income is counted when it is received.

Module 3:
Susan Harrell (00:00):
So how much is the benefit? The benefit amount is based on what’s called the Federal Benefit Rate or FBR. Hey Buck, come on in and show us the latest FBR amounts. You can see that there are two amounts. One amount is for an individual and another is for a married couple. If a person is single or the person is married, but their spouse does not receive SSI that person’s SSI as a starting point is based on that single FBR amount. If a couple is married and both receive SSI, the amount of their SSI benefits will be based on that shared Federal Benefit Rate for a married couple, but how much is paid depends on the amount of income that the individual is receiving, or the couple is receiving as well as the living situation. And the reason for this is that Supplemental Security Income is intended to provide individuals with a means to take care of their basic needs, and if they have other monies or other supports in taking care of their basic needs, then that’s going to start to impact the check amount. You’ll also notice that on this slide, we have the medical benefits noted under each of the different disability umbrellas, disability benefit umbrellas, and under SSI is Medicaid. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to be on SSI to get Medicaid, but it does mean that those people who are on SSI are automatically eligible for Medicaid. And in fact, the rules for Medicaid are defined under the same Social Security information that applies to SSI. So we’re talking about limited income and limited resources, unless there is something specific that acquires that allows those things to not count when it comes to Medicaid. And you’ll also notice that on the Title II side of things, when people are drawing a benefit off of their own or somebody else’s record, somebody else has paid in, or they have paid into Social Security, that the benefit that comes with that for medical coverage is Medicare. So that is the benefit that individuals automatically eventually get. After a period of time when they’ve been on Title II benefits. Again, that doesn’t mean that somebody on Title II, wouldn’t be eligible for Medicaid as well as Medicare, but the provisions of the coverage for Medicaid are defined in SSI rule.

Susan Harrell (02:47):
What happens if other income is received? For people that are on Title XVI SSI benefits, the check is adjusted monthly based on the income that is received. And we’re going to go through some…a formula with some examples after you talk a little bit about the living arrangement just so that people understand the impact and what happens when other things are provided that helps somebody take care of those basic needs.

Scott Leonard (03:15):
Okay. Now we want to talk about living arrangement and income and how each affect SSI. And when we talk about income, we’re talking about two different types of income. We’re talking about earned income, which comes from a job, and unearned income, which does not come from a job. For example, a cash gift that would be unearned income. And living arrangement, earned income and unearned income, all affect the SSI benefit. Let’s start off talking about living arrangement and SSI. So as you were saying, Susan, the purpose of SSI is to pay for a person sort of basic needs food and shelter needs, right? So Social Security wants to know about a person’s living arrangement, where they’re making decisions about SSI, eligibility, and the amount that the person receives. So for example, let’s say someone is living with their parents. And I see this often when people are younger, maybe they’re age 18, they qualify for SSI, and they’re living with their parents.

Scott Leonard (04:15):
Their parents may not be charging rent. And so when the person applies for SSI and qualifies for SSI, they become eligible for less than the full Federal Benefit Rate. It will be reduced by approximately one

third. That’s the most, it can be reduced by, but the logic behind this is that if a person does not have to pay for the rent, then they do not need to a full SSI check to pay for their basic needs. So if a person is not paying rent, it actually works to their advantage to pay rent so they can qualify for the full SSI check. Right now, interestingly, there are some other situations where people may not be paying for their rent or they receive public support, but they do qualify for a full SSI check. So for example, people who are homeless will often qualify for a full SSI check. It may not be reduced by a third, like someone who’s living with their parents and not paying the rent.

Scott Leonard (05:11):
And then also public housing support. And that also it goes for say, food benefits. If someone is getting support with their housing, say Section 8, housing, maybe they’re having a reduced rent that they have to pay that does not affect their SSI. They maintain the full SSI check in that situation. And then also food benefits, a person can receive food benefits and the full SSI check. I think what’s important for people to realize though, is that it’s not just income that can affect their SSI. It’s also their living arrangement. And so if a person has a change in their living management, if they’re going to start paying rent, or even if they move, they really need to notify Social Security and give them that information.

Scott Leonard (05:54):
So, as we discussed earlier, there’s two types income that Social Security looks at. There’s earned income and that’s gross income received from a job, and there’s unearned income and that’s money that the person doesn’t earn. Let’s talk a little bit about that earned income piece. So first of all, we’re talking about gross income that’s income that the person earns, but before they take out taxes, before they take out union dues, before they take out retirement benefits, they’re looking at that dollar amount. That’s the amount that a person is going to report to Social Security. It’s also the amount that they receive from a job. So they’re going to look at the amount of money that that person actually receives between the first and the 30th or 31st that’s the amount that gets reported. Now, unearned income unearned income is money that the person did not earn from a job. So for example, SSDI. SSDI is another benefit program that we talked about, that’s considered unearned income. So if a person has SSI and they qualify for SSDI, it will have an impact on their SSI benefit check. Also, if they get gifts… This is something that happens fairly often. Someone gives someone on SSI, a cash gift. Technically speaking, that person is supposed to report that cash gift to Social Security. And when they do that, that’s considered unearned income. And as we’ll see, that actually causes the SSI to go down significantly.
Inheritances, inheritance, child support…those all are considered unearned income. And the reason we talk about earned income and unearned income separately is because each have a different effect on SSI. We find that the rules with an earned income are much less forgiving than the rules around the earned income.

Scott Leonard (07:40):
And they do that because Social Security wants people to work. It built in work incentives. So it has less of an impact on the SSI check when a person reports their gross wages. So there are exceptions to the income that Social Security looks at. This is excluded income. Here are some examples, income tax returns and tax credits. And so, for example, it wouldn’t make sense if you got a tax return from the government and then they turned around and reduced the person’s SSI. So that’s considered an excluded income. Same as section 8 and basic food benefits. We talked about that earlier, that type of public assistance generally does not affect the SSI. Same as low income home energy assistance. Now, this is interesting…bills paid by someone for things other than food or shelter. So let’s say that my uncle wants to give me a hundred dollars and I have SSI. If he just gives me a hundred dollars, that’s going to

be considered unearned income, right? But if my uncle were instead to take that hundred dollars and use it to pay for say, my cell phone bill, or maybe buy me some furniture, that’s money is not coming to me and it’s not paying for either food or shelter. And that situation that is not considered unearned income. Right. So if someone wants to give me a gift that might be a wiser way to do it.

Susan Harrell (09:03):
Yes. People often ask questions about gift cards. And what do you tell them when they, they ask you about giving someone a gift card instead of giving them cash? For instance?

Scott Leonard (09:14):
Yeah, if the person has a gift card and that is available to them to be able to purchase, say something related to food or shelter, then it would be considered unearned income. But if it was a gift card for something that was not related to food or shelter, then generally that’s not considered under the income. That’s the information that I provide is that, would you agree with that?

Susan Harrell (09:34):
Yes. And, and so that can be tricky if you buy, let’s say a gift card for Fred Meyer, correct. Then you can purchase food at Fred Meyer. And that means that you should report because that’s unearned income, right? But let’s say that it is something like a gift card to a beauty store and you can’t convert, you can’t pull any cash off that card that would not be considered something that was accessible to you for food or shelter, and therefore would not be considered unearned income. Right? So it’s really, that’s kind of tricky. And sometimes it’s easier if people just think of other ways to do it.

Scott Leonard (10:17):
I agree. And you know, if someone’s not sure they can report it, right? They can be ported to Social Security and let Social Security make that decision. I think it’s always best to err on the side of reporting income to Social Security, would you agree?

Susan Harrell (10:31):
Yeah. Because one of the other tricky things about a gift card is can you pull cash out of it? Not just where it is that you can use it, but can you get cash back out of that gift card?

Scott Leonard (10:42):
That’s a really good point.

Susan Harrell (10:43):
Yeah. Because then it should be counted as income. Yeah.

Scott Leonard (10:48):
So something about SSI, that’s important for folks to understand is that while they’re receiving SSI, if there’s unearned income that’s available, they should pursue it and accept it. And so where we see this as around unemployment benefits. Let’s say someone’s on SSI and they’ve been working and then they get laid off of no fault of their own. And they can qualify for unemployment benefits. Technically they’re supposed to apply for unemployment benefits. And if they qualify for these unemployment benefits, that’s going to be considered an earned income and that’s gonna affect their SSI. And I’ve seen instances

where those unemployment benefits are so large that it knocks the person off of SSI. Yes. But they, they have to do that. That’s one of the conditions of receiving SSI. They’re supposed to pursue any other funding that may be available to them.

Module 4:
Scott (00:00):
I want to talk about the two month accounting cycle. So first of all, we mentioned this earlier, earned income always counts in the month that it is received. So let’s say that I get paid every two weeks, probably about twice a year. I’m going to receive three paychecks in a month, right? I’m actually going to report all three paychecks in that month, the Social Security for that month. So it’s whatever I receive at the beginning of the month to the end of the month, both earned income and unearned income.
That’s the, that’s the income that I report to Social Security. Now, when I report it to Social Security, it takes Social Security a couple of months to make an adjustment to my SSI. So let’s say for example, I’m working in January and I receive income and I report it to Social Security. I’m going to report it to Social Security by the 10th day of February.

Scott (00:54):
So I take the income that I received in January, the gross income and a report by the 10th day of February. So now Social Security has the month of February to figure out what that’s going to do to my SSI. And we’re going to be talking about those calculations, that Social Security uses. If it reduces my SSI, it’s going to happen in the month of March. So when I get a reduced benefit check in March, it’s based off of my income that I received in January reporting income for SSI. And as we were talking about, people have to report their income to SSI, just different ways to do it. Now, when a person receiving SSI first starts working Social Security, wants that person to talk to a representative, tell them that they’re working. And then that representative is going to explain these options for reporting income.

Scott (01:43):
These are a few of them. So a mobile app, there’s actually an app that you can get on your smartphone to report earned income. You can also do it by telephone. There’s a phone number that they’ll give you, that you can call in and report your gross wages. There’s also a website here on the PowerPoint that people can go in and they can report their income. Last thing they can do it by mail, or they can go in person at the local office. Now it used to be, I would say 10 years ago that people typically had to be poor income just by Neva going into the office. So now it’s become much easier for people to be able to report their income from for SSI purposes. Yes, that’s for earned income unearned income. We recommend that people report it by mail or going go into the local office in person. And to give that information to the Social Security rep, I have not been able to use the mobile app because I do not receive SSI. So I’m not sure if people can be unearned income through the mobile app, but I’ve heard that they cannot have you heard the same thing?

Susan (02:43):
Yes, I have. And I too, I’ve tried to test it that I can’t get beyond just the very introductory screens right there. Yeah.

Scott (02:52):
One tip is that if you’re going to be mailing anything into Social Security, I recommend you do it. Mail, you know, Social Security, they’re a huge organization. And just sometimes things get lost. If they lose something, there’s no evidence that you actually sent it in, unless you mail it in certified. You mail it in certified, you get a receipt when they receive it. And that’s your evidence. So that’s contested. You have proof of that.

Susan (03:18):

What about people though, who report by telephone or even maybe by mobile app or in person at the local office, how do they track so that they can prove that they actually,

Scott (03:31):
My understanding is when people report through the mobile app or by telephone to get some, at least with the mobile app, they get a confirmation or they get a confirmation email of the, of what they’ve reported. If they were to go in person at the local office. I tell people that they should write down the date that they went in there. Who was it that they talked to. And what is it that they talked about if the Social Security rep gave them any advice? Probably not a bad idea to write down that advice as well, right? And I’ve found that if you have some documentation that you go into the local office and you’re going to give it to a Social Security rep, you can ask them to make a copy and then go stamp it as received. And then you have, that’s your, that’s your receipt that they actually received that documentation.

Susan (04:14):
I think even with the other mechanisms, it’s not that difficult to write down the date that you’ve reported. And if you just do that on a regular basis, and you have a running record all in one place with your pay stubs.

Scott (04:25):
Yeah, that’s right. I think that’s really good advice. And so just a high level view of this Social Security does do we determination reviews. They tend to do this on an annual basis, but what I’m hearing is that actually they’re happening less frequently than annually for some people. And this is an opportunity for Social Security to get information about the person’s income resources and living arrangement. Even if a person is reporting their income on a monthly basis, they’re still going to have to go through this redetermination review. And this tends to happen in person by phone or via mail.

Module 5:
Susan Harrell (00:00):
So now we’re going to get into discussing income, both earned and unearned, and the various exclusions or work incentives that can be applied before counting the remaining income towards the SSI benefit.
So in this table, we have broken out the different types of income. And the reason for this is that with SSI and unearned income, you are only allowed a single General Exclusion, a $20, up to a $20 General Exclusion before the rest of the income is countable. And with earned income, you are allowed additional work incentives like a $65 Earned Income Exclusion and an additional 1/2 Earned Income Exclusion. In addition to that $20 General Exclusion that we were able to apply with unearned income only. And then there is also the breaking out of these exclusions when you have a combination of both unearned and earned income. So we’re going to work through some examples, utilizing the SSI, Federal Benefit Rate.

Susan Harrell (01:10):
Now, I just want to make sure that people are aware that you can go and get the updated numbers annually so that you’re operating with the most recent Federal Benefit Rate when it comes to SSI. In order to assure that you really are pretty accurate about how much money you can expect to be receiving after countable or unearned or earned income is applied to the SSI Federal Benefit Rate. People on SSI will often get a letter that will explain the increase of SSI that occurs at the beginning of the year, but I know when I’m wanting to research this, I just do a web search “FBR 2019 or whatever the year is”, and Social Security does a pretty good job of showing the past amounts for FBR and the future amounts of FBR.

Susan Harrell (02:00):
Yes. And you know, the other thing is, is that even if an individual receives a letter, if they do the, you know, shoe box storage method filing, they may not be able to access that at the point when they need it. And so it’s really good to be able to figure out how you can use search terms to find this information at any time, without having to dig back through a bunch of information to try to find that letter.

Scott Leonard (02:24):
Well, that’s so true. And when people receive SSI, they receive so much information from Social Security, correct. Right. Often monthly. Yes. And so it’d be really easy to miss that information.

Susan Harrell (02:34):
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So the first example is with unearned income and SSI. So let’s say that I have somebody that gives me $200 in a cash gift. And the first thing that I am able to do is apply this General Exclusion of $20. That’s an exclusion that can be appliied again to any source of income up to that full
$20 amount, but only one time per month can a full $20 amount be applied. That leaves the person with
$180 in countable on earned income. So we’ve completed this first step in determining countable income. And in this case, countable unearned income,

Susan Harrell (03:23):
We then move to the SSI Federal Benefit Rate or FBR. And what we’re trying to determine is how much is that SSI check going to be adjusted in that third month after I received this unearned income. So we start with the Federal Benefit Rate again, for these examples, we’re using the rate for an individual. And then I subtract that $180 in countable income to determine the amount of my adjusted SSI benefit check. And then finally, how much money do I have all together? This is a step that I recommend to help

people understand how much money they will have completely given how much they’ve been given, or how much they have earned during a given month. And then this adjustment to the SSI check. We take the $200 cash gift, and then we add the adjusted SSI amount. And that gives us the total gross amount that I will receive.

Susan Harrell (04:31):
So this situation, it’s a good illustration of how much unearned income truly impacts the SSI benefit rate, right? The amount that you actually receive, because there’s really only just that one, that General Exclusion of $20 that people can apply. So if my aunt or uncle wants to give me $200 in cash, they might be better off just giving me $20, right?

Scott Leonard (05:00):
That’s right. Exactly. Interesting.

Susan Harrell (05:04):
So the next example is with SSI and earned income. Now, let’s say for example, that somebody has a job in which they are getting paid $800 per month in gross wages. Now remember that $20 General Exclusion that we were able to use with unearned income, here, we get to apply it to earned income since there isn’t unearned income in this situation. So we’re going to take that $20 General Exclusion and then we get to apply an Earned Income Exclusion.

Susan Harrell (05:36):
This is a work incentive. It only applies to earned income and therefore it really is an incentive for people to work. And it’s $65. Not that impressive, right, but still it’s something. And that brings us to a subtotal is $715 so far in countable income. But then there’s another Earned Income Exclusion. And this one is pretty powerful. It means that you’re really only counting half of the remaining earned income towards your SSI benefits. So it’s called the 1/2 Earned Income Exclusion, and you divide that subtotal of $715 in earned income by two, by one half. And it brings us to $357 and 50 cents in countable earned income.
And then finally, we move to taking a look at what that does to the SSI check. So we start with the FBR for an individual and we subtract the 357 50 of countable earned income to determine the amount of the adjusted SSI check.

Susan Harrell (06:46):
So here we go, this looks a lot more impressive, right? You get to retain a lot more money, and you’re finally bumping up beyond that SSI FBR in a much more significant way. And in fact, when I work with individuals and I try to show them the value of work, I again go to this place where I add together, how much did they get gross wages? How much was their adjusted SSI amount?

Susan Harrell (07:12):
And you can see in this situation, the $800 in gross wages, plus the adjusted SSI amount equals the total gross amount, which is much larger than the Federal Benefit Rate.

Scott Leonard (07:27):
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s pretty powerful.

Susan Harrell (07:29):
It is.

Scott Leonard (07:30):
After the $20 $65 exclusions, the SSI is only going down by about 50 cents for every dollar. So you can actually come up with quite a bit more money in your pocket from earning wages as compared to just getting a cash gift.

Susan Harrell (07:48):
Right. Truly pushes you towards work efforts. It’s the only way you have more money. Of any value anyway, right? It’s a way to work your way out of poverty, a lot of the time, people are just afraid that work is going to impact their benefits to the point that they don’t want to do anything that would do that. They might even work at a point where they’ve only got the $20 and the $65. So a total of $85 that they’re earning each month and what a shame when they could be pocketing so much of what they’re earning in employment beyond that.

Scott Leonard (08:21):
Right. One of the myths that I hear is that you can’t earn any money on SSI, or you can’t earn more than the Federal Benefit Rate or else you risk losing your SSI. Or at least you’ll have your SSI reduced by $1 with each dollar that you earn. And this example shows that those myths are completely incorrect.

Susan Harrell (08:43):
Right. Yeah, absolutely.

Scott Leonard (08:45):
I have a question about this season. Sometimes I work with people who have two jobs, do they apply that $20 General Exclusion and the $65 earning an income exclusion twice for the income from each job?

Susan Harrell (08:57):
No. So what they do is they add the gross wage amount for any and all earned income together before they apply these exclusions. Okay. Our next example is a situation where someone is getting both unearned income, as well as earned income when they’re on SSI. So let’s say that this individual on SSIS receiving a cash gift of $200, and it also earns 800 gross in wages per month. So let’s start with the $200 cash gift. Now, remember in the first situation we applied the General Exclusion to the unearned income amount. The next example, we applied it to the earned income amount. And in this situation where you have both earned and unearned income, you first apply it to unearned income. So this $20 General Exclusion is going to be used up by applying it to the unearned income, leaving the individual with $180 in countable unearned income. And now we’re going to go over and take a look at what is countable out of the earned income. So with $800 in gross wages, the first exclusion we can apply is that work incentive, the Earned Income Exclusion of $65. So we skipped right over the $20 since they already applied it.

Susan Harrell (10:32):

And that leaves us with a subtotal of $735. We then can apply that 1/2 Earned Income Exclusion, which brings us to $367 and 50 cents in countable earned income. And then finally, we need to take both countable income amounts and add them together so that we know what the total countable income is. So the unearned income of $180 that’s countable and earned income that is countable $367 and 50 cents combined bring us to $547.50 in total countable income. And our final step would be to figure out with SSI, how much is going to be subtracted for my SSI amount based on this total countable income. If I subtract this $547.50 from the Federal Benefit Rate, this brings us to the adjusted amount of the SSI check. And finally, if I want to show the individual that they have a total amount that is greater than that basic SSI check, I would add the $200 cash gift, the hundred dollars in gross wages, and also that adjusted SSI amount to display how much in gross income they have.

Scott Leonard (12:03):
You know, if I didn’t know about this calculation, and I knew a person was getting a cash gift of $200 plus
$800 in wages, that’s a lot of money coming in at a glance. I would assume that the SSI would go away, but actually the person still receives a substantial SSI cash payment.

Susan Harrell (12:23):
Yes. And it really does show that even if you’re receiving some unearned income, right. If there’s still SSI remaining, you’d benefit greatly from work that you can really enhance how much you have in total by working, in this scenario as well.

Scott Leonard (12:42):
Right. I have a question, Susan, let’s say someone is on SSI and they have $800 post per month from a job. And then they qualify for some SSDI. The SSDI say is $200. Do they do the same calculation?

Susan Harrell (12:59):
They absolutely do. Because SSDI is unearned income. As you mentioned earlier, when you went through all of those examples, all of those things, unemployment child support, somebody giving you money, you know, whether it’s in the form of cash or a gift card that can be used for food or shelter, SSDI, SSCDB those other Social Security benefits… Those are all unearned income.

Module 6:
Scott Leonard (00:00):
Additional Work Incentives: So earlier when we were going through the calculations, we were talking about some exclusions that are available for people with their earned income. And now we’re going to be talking about some additional Work Incentives and what these Work Incentives do is they can actually in addition to encouraging a person to make the decision to work, it can allow them to receive some extra money back on their SSI check. And we’re going to go through a few of these, the first Work Incentive we’re going to be talking about our Impairment Related Work Expenses or IRWE’s, and IRWE’s, allow a person to keep more SSI when paying for certain expenses. So these expenses must be first paid by the beneficiary. They need to be for the, for the impairment. So they need to be related to the person’s disability in some way, they need to enable the beneficiary to work and they have to be reasonable in price.

Scott Leonard (00:55):
Now, the amount of that expense paid, it can be deducted in the SSI calculation, which we’re going to show you. And when they work in the amount that the person is paying for this Impairment Related Work Expense, they can get some money back on their SSI check, up to half of that expense. Here’s some examples of Impairment Related Work Expenses. So for example, medications, job, coaching, medical devices, medical supplies, some transportation and medical services might all qualify as Impairment Related Work Expenses. Now I say might qualify because someone needs to establish an IRWE first with Social Security. So for example, if I’m paying for something out of my own pocket, that’s related to my disability and necessary for work, I let Social Security know. And then I also need to provide some evidence that I’ve made this payment out of my own pocket. So I’ll will often bring our receipt for the, for what I paid for, and then Social Security makes the decision of whether or not there was an IRWE that’s in place. And then they worked that information into the calculations. So here’s the calculation example using IRWEs. So here’s a person or an $800 gross per month. This is the exact same amount that we were talking about earlier. And in this case, this person has a $300 per week. They’re paying for something that’s disability related and necessary for work. So we started off with her $800 in gross wages, and we’re going to follow the exact same format that we have with the other calculations, Social Security doesn’t look at $20, that’s a General Exclusion. And then they don’t look at $65. That’s an Earned Income Exclusion, which brings us down to $715. Now, normally what they would do when calculating SSI is they would take $715 and divide it by two. And that’s the amount that would cause the SSI to go down. But with an IRWE, let’s say I reported to Social Security, this $300, IRWE to Social Security. They subtract it here in their calculation. So they take $715 minus the $300 for the IRWE equals $415. And now they take the $415 and they divide that by two, which equals $207 50 cents.
That’s the countable earned income. That’s the amount that causes the SSI to go down.

New Speaker (03:14):
Right, and I think a note is that really this $207 and 50 cents and Countable Earned Income that you’re showing here is $150 more than the previous example of that $800 wage earner. Right? So really because you applied this $300 IRWE, prior to dividing by two, giving that one half Earned Income Exclusion. In essence, what occurs is …?

Scott Leonard (03:50):
What happens is they get half of that benefit back on their SSI check. New Speaker (03:54):

Right. Yeah.

Scott Leonard (03:55):
Yeah. It reduces their countable income, so they get more SSI.

New Speaker (03:59):
So it’s not full coverage in terms of a Work Incentive and buying something that if somebody doesn’t have another way to be able to access a resource or an enhancement to what they’re buying, this certainly offers them something. Right.

Scott Leonard (04:14):
Absolutely. So let’s continue with this calculation. We take the Federal Benefit Rate and subtract the Countable Earned Income of $207.50 cents to determine the adjusted SSI check amount altogether. Then we have the $800 gross wages and the adjusted SSI to determine the total gross income for the month. And then of course, this person is paying $300 out of their own pocket for an Impairment Related Work Expense. But you know, they would’ve been paying for that anyway, they might as well report it to Social Security. Right? Right. I’m wondering Susan, what are some IRWE’s that you’ve experienced in your time of working with individuals?

New Speaker (05:00):
Well I think one of the things that one of the IRWE’s that I came upon where I actually had to work to make a case for it was somebody who was using speech therapy and they were paying for this out of pocket. They were working at a company that they’d worked at for quite a long time, actually, since they’d been out of high school, this is somebody with significant hearing impairment. And when he was in school, he got therapies associated with his schooling with, with his school experience and had gotten quite, quite good at being able to communicate verbally with folks in a way that they could understand.

New Speaker (05:39):
But in the years after he got out of school, when he was at work slowly, but surely those skills declined. And his job coach and his mother and he were talking and it seemed like this was impacting his ability to have those relationships in the workplace. And they were concerned that he wouldn’t advance. He wouldn’t be as secure in his job if there were cutbacks, if he didn’t have those good relationships with folks, because over time, people started to communicate less and less with him as they were struggling more and more to understand him. So he was going to speech therapy and I was contacted about the situation and I just started looking into it. And I really felt pretty strongly that this was something that was related to his impairment. It was related to his work because it had to do with his communication in the workplace, and his job security.

New Speaker (06:29):
And he was paying for it out of pocket. There was another coverage. So being able to understand what the three key pieces are, you can figure out a way to make a case, even if it’s a, non-typical kind of a situation. Originally Social Security said, no, they didn’t want to cover that because he had worked before just fine. Why did he need it now? And we really had to explain what had happened and how he had received this previously at school. And that his skill set declined over time in terms of his ability to clearly communicate verbally and why it seemed like a really important thing for him and essential to this work. So that was kind of unusual. I’ve also heard of people using an IRWE to pay for the amount

that it costs them to charge their wheelchair at home at night because those motorized wheelchairs can be quite expensive. So, I’ve worked with a lot of people that, that work in benefits planning. And one of the stories that was shared with me was an IRWE that individual utilized in order to cover the cost of the electricity, which amounted to like 75 or a hundred dollars a month to charge that the motorized wheelchair at home at night. Because that was an expense that the person was incurring because of their impairment. The wheelchair was something they used in work. And they were paying for it out of pocket.

Scott Leonard (07:56):
And 75 to a hundred dollars, getting half of that back, that’s a considerable amount actually, when someone’s on SSI, right?

New Speaker (08:03):
Right. Yeah.

Scott Leonard (08:04):
Yeah, I’ve found that when I am working with individuals around their benefits, I often find incidents where they are paying for something that would qualify as an IRWE and they just didn’t know. And it’s just a matter of getting that documentation together and submitting it to Social Security. And sometimes it’s creating the argument as to why this is necessary for work, but then backing up with some sort of receipt or evidence Social Security, then we’ll tend to improve it right now. One of the things about IRWE’s is once, once it gets into the system, sometimes Social Security can just let that amount run. And so they’re just working into their calculation every single month. I don’t know if you’ve seen this before or not. Maybe that are, we stops, but Social Security, if they don’t know, they may keep applying that in their calculation. And that’s not such a good thing because the SSI should probably be going down and it’s not. So I always tell people when I help them establish an IRWE is to remind them that when the IRWE stops, they need to notify Social Security,

New Speaker (09:00):
You know and sometimes for individuals, it’s a lot to remember when to report, how to report all of these different things. And sometimes even if the IRWE isn’t fluctuating, I recommend that people just report us. They report their wages. Yeah. Then you’re in the habit and you can manage things a bit better. Cause if you’re in overpayment, it’s still your responsibility to pay it back. So it’s best to try to stay as safe as you possibly can.

Scott Leonard (09:29): Yeah.

Susan Harrell (09:29): Yeah.

Scott Leonard (09:30): Good advice.

Module 7:
Scott Leonard (00:00):
Blind Work Expenses. So these are work incentives that are available for people who experience blindness. Now that blindness needs to be established by Social Security standards. It can’t be a person who says that they have trouble seeing Social Security has to say, yes, this is sort of disabling condition, but once they have that established, they can take advantage of these Blind Work Expenses, expenses. So these are expenses that are paid for by the beneficiary and they enable the beneficiary to work.
And the amount of the expense can be deducted in the SSI calculation. It sounds like an IRWE, but it’s actually different than an IRWE and actually works out much better for, for folks that are always, we were talking about that earlier about there being lobbyists who helped create some better rules for people who experience blindness. And this would be an example.

Susan Harrell (00:48):

Scott Leonard (00:49):
When people use Blind Work Expenses, they can actually potentially get their entire amount of their SSI back when they’re, when they report this information to Social Security.

Susan Harrell (00:59):
Right. Based on the expense.

Scott Leonard (01:01):
Based on the expense, correct. So let’s go over some examples. These are different than IRWE’s. So for example, state and federal taxes, now that would never fly as an IRWE, because it’s not impairment related, but it does qualify as a Blind Work Expense state and federal taxes qualifies a Blind Work Expense. The person reports that information to Social Security. They can get some of their money back on their SSI check, union dues, mandatory pension contributions, reader services, childcare, transportation, and meals consumed during work. That’s always surprising, but if someone’s going to work and they’re consuming meals during that time, they can actually claim that as a Blind Work Expense.

Susan Harrell (01:45):
Right. And food for your seeing eye dog.

Scott Leonard (01:49):
Yes, that’s right.

Susan Harrell (01:50):
Right. There’s things that are covered that are so far beyond what we’d ever think about with an earthquake. And you could also roll in anything that would have been an IRWE, typically into a Blind Work Expense if the individual is somebody that meets that definition.

Scott Leonard (02:07):
Right now, Susan, in your experience, if someone was blind and they started working, do you think Social Security is going to proactively let them know about Blind Work Expenses?

Susan Harrell (02:18):
What I think is it’s best to check and make sure and identify what you’re eligible to receive and point out that that’s what you’re expecting to be able to claim, right? Because people are people and you can’t always predict exactly how much the individual you’re meeting with wherever it is that you’re you’re meeting and who you’re dealing with, how much they really know about these specific things. So to me, the best advice is to talk it over with a Social Security rep, establish it, and then move forward.

Scott Leonard (02:52):
Yeah, I agree. That’s the same. That’s the same advice that I give as well. So let’s do another calculation and this is going to be very similar to the IRWE in terms of the numbers, but the outcome is going to be actually quite different. So this person receives SSI earning $800 gross per month. And this person has
$300 in Blind Work Expenses. We start off with the exact same way, $800 in gross wages, minus a $20 general exclusion and minus is $65 earned income exclusion that equals $715. Now, if we were doing an IRWE here, we would subtract it here, right, we would subtract the $300 from the 715, but with Blind Work Expense, you continue on with the calculation.

Susan Harrell (03:37):
So it falls after…

Scott Leonard (03:39):
That’s right. So what we do is we take the 715 and we divide that by two, which equals $357 and 50 cents. That normally that’s the amount that the SSI goes down by, but this person has reported $300 of expenses that qualify as Blind Work Expenses.

Scott Leonard (03:57):
So Social Security subtracts that $300 here. $357.50 minus $300 in Blind Work Expenses equals only $57 and 50 cents of countable earned income.

Susan Harrell (04:09):
Amazing isn’t it?

Scott Leonard (04:11):
Yeah. So the SSI is only going to go down by $57 and 50 cents. We take the Federal Benefit Rate and subtract the $57.50 cents to determine the adjusted SSI amount. And so altogether the person receives
$800 in gross wages, plus their adjusted SSI check. And yes, they’re paying out of pocket for those Blind Work Expenses, but they were reimbursed all that money through their SSI check. It’s pretty remarkable.

Susan Harrell (04:39):
Right. If you think about state and federal taxes, that’s, that’s something that everybody has subtracted from their checks typically, right? That’s right. But that you could turn around and claim that as a Blind Work Expenses. Pretty amazing.

Scott Leonard (04:53):
Yeah. It’s really powerful. I just met with an individual who, who had just gotten a job and he experienced blindness and he was going to be making over $2,000 a month and wasn’t aware of these

Blind Work Expenses. So we went through and looked at the taxes that he would be paying, lunches, and he also had transportation costs. And when you subtracted all of those in their calculation, you actually ended up with a significant amount of SSI, even though he was making more than $2,000 a month from his job.

Susan Harrell (05:20):
Yes. It’s really, it’s a great thing. And I, you know, I think that the piece of advice that I give to folks when they are professionals working with a broad array of individuals is to note that there are people who have conditions that continue to worsen over time. So somebody may have decent vision at the point that they apply for Social Security, but over time, maybe their vision ends up deteriorating and it gets to a point that it would meet the definition of blindness is Social Security. So when you notice that somebody that has a vision impairment is thinking about work, that they’re starting to move into that arena. You might want to double check to see if they’ve let Social Security know that they may indeed qualify as a person that is widened under their definition.

Scott Leonard (06:15):
That’s really great. Yeah. Thank you.

Module 8:
Scott Leonard (00:00):
So the Student Earned Income Exclusion, or SEIE. This is an exclusion just for students who are under the age of 22, and this is a really great Work Incentive. I really, I really like this Work Incentive is for students under the age of 22, who are regularly attending school, that we’ll talk a little bit more about what that means to be regularly attending school. This exclusion is a little bit different than the other two exclusions we’ve talked about

Scott Leonard (00:26):
With the SEIE a person can exclude some or all of their earnings each month when Social Security is determining their monthly SSI benefit, check them out. Now there are limits to how much can be excluded. So buck come on in and show us the latest figures. You’ll see here. Two figures for a given year. The first figure is the maximum amount that can be excluded each month. If a person earns less than that amount in the month, the entire monthly amount of their earnings may be excluded in the SSI calculation. If they earn more than that amount, the amount that is over this monthly limit would be worked into the SSI calculation. Now that second figure is the annual limit with the Student Earned Income Exclusion. There is a maximum amount that can be excluded for the calendar year, once a person’s total exclusions through the Student Earned Income Exclusion reaches that annual limit than any money earned afterwards for that year will be calculated normally as gross wages when determining the SSI benefit amount. What’s great about the Student Earned Income Exclusion is that it gets renewed each year. So let’s say a person is only 18 years old and the person’s a student and they have a job. They could be making money from their job, applying the student, earned income exclusion, and potentially may not see any reduction in their SSI for the entire year. And the next year they get a whole new annual amount that they can utilize for that year.

Susan Harrell (02:02):
And these figures for the Student Earned Income Exclusion, like other figures we’ve discussed in this training, they tend to go up each year.

Scott Leonard (02:12):
Yeah, exactly. And like we discussed earlier with those other figures, people can go online and do a web search for the latest figures. When you do this, you may actually find the Social Security policy webpage that lists the most current, monthly and annual amounts for this Work Incentive, as well as all the historical figures for the Student Earned Income Exclusion.

Susan Harrell (02:36):
Right. And actually Social Security has all of this information in another interesting format. It’s a document that lists all of their costs of living adjustments for a year, including the federal benefit rate or FBR, the Student Earned Income Exclusion, or SEIE, Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA, etc. So when you do a web search, you could write in the current or upcoming year, and then also the phrase COLA increases or something of the sort, and it would bring up this doc, which contains all of these various numbers to demonstrate the amount of the Cost Of Living Adjustment, Social Security lists of figures for two years. So that means that you can compare the current year’s figure to the previous year’s figures, or if it’s November or December and the figures for the next year, have them released. You can compare where you are right there in November or December of the current year to the new figures that we’ll be rolling out in January.

Scott Leonard (03:46):
So regularly attending school. What is it that mean? Well, there’s a couple different possibilities if someone’s in grades 7 through 12 and they were in school for at least 12 hours a week, that would qualify as a regularly attending school. If they’re in college for at least eight hours per week, that would, that would qualify. And that also includes, it includes online schools if it’s approved by Social Security. So my understanding is people need to check in with Social Security to make sure that that online school qualifies for the Student Earned Income Exclusion. And then also if someone’s in a training program to prepare for employment and they would need to be in that training program for at least 12 hours a week. Now this includes the high school Transition Programs for a lot of individuals who are in special education. After their Senior year of high school, they make they go into a Transition Program. And part of that Transition Program is to help people build the skills to be able to, to be employed. So they may be working during that Transition Program that would qualify as them being in school. And so that the wages that they’re making while they’re in the Transition Program, they could utilize the Student Earned Income Exclusion, and potentially receive an entire SSI check during that time that it is now, people need to let Social Security know about this. Again, just like any other Work Incentive. And what I found is Social Security wants a lot of evidence about the school that the person is going to. For example, sometimes I’ve seen when people are in a Transition Program, they might want to let her on school
stationary. And that letter is someone, perhaps a teacher or someone at the school says, yes, this person isn’t involved in this Transition Program. They want to make sure that the person is meeting this regularly, attending school standard. A few other things that’s really useful to know about the Student Earned Income Exclusion is that let’s say the person has summer off and they’re working, but they’re gonna go back to school in September. They can actually still use the Student Earned Income Exclusion during the summer time, even though they’re not actively in school, as long as they’re under the age of 22.

Susan Harrell (05:57):
Yes. Right,

Scott Leonard (05:58):
Now, once you hit age 22, you can no longer use the student earned income tax.

Susan Harrell (06:03):
Or once you get to where your summer isn’t sandwiched by two periods of time in school, right? So if you complete the program in June, that summer of work, isn’t going to be excluded from that. If you’re not returning to school in the fall. One of the questions that I get asked is what about homeschooling? How does that work?

Scott Leonard (06:29):
I think homeschooling actually does qualify as regularly attending school, but you have to provide the right documentation for them to approve that. Is that your experience?

Susan Harrell (06:36):
Yes, it definitely is. And really what I would recommend is rather than having our audience be able to figure out all of the ins and outs, that being able to spot someone who could benefit from a Student Earned Income Exclusion, or any of the other Work Incentives and being able to explain it is the most

important thing. But working out all of the complexities is something where you might want to contact a benefit specialist or a benefit planner.

Scott Leonard (07:03):
It’s a good idea. I know that those policies just about that topic, but it, those policies are not always so easy to understand. So it’s useful to bring in a benefits planner who can go through that and make sure they understand all the parameters of how homeschooling can qualify for this.

Susan Harrell (07:18):
Right. Those policies, even for people like you and I, that have worked on this for a long, long time, or sometimes not so easy to understand.

Scott Leonard (07:27):
They’re challenging. Ok, so we’re going to do a calculation example. This one’s actually fairly straight forward. So here’s someone on SSI that a student and they get a job and they’re earning $800 gross per month is they started off with $800 gross per wages, and then they immediately applied the Student Earned Income Exclusion, right? $800. They’re immediately not going to look at any of the gross wages, which we know right away that means that the person’s going to qualify for the full SSI check. Now we ended up using the entire calculation here just so you can get comfortable with it. But 800 minus $800 of Student Earned Income Exclusion equals $0. You subtract the $20 general exclusion and the 65 earned income exclusion. You get zero again. And then you take that zero. You divide it by two, that equals $0 accountable earned income. And that means that the person’s SSI amount minus zero equals their full SSI amount. So altogether, the student gets $800 in wages, plus their full SSI check.

Susan Harrell (08:30):
This is why this is my, A-1, favorite Work Incentive. And I have found lots of people that had no idea about this. They worked during these years when they may have qualified per Student Earned Income Exclusion and Social Security, didn’t spot it because they may not consider that somebody would still be a student when they’re over the age of 18 and under the age of 22. So yeah, it’s been a real shame to see that this, my favorite Work Incentive be overlooked when you could really benefit from it.

Scott Leonard (09:06):
That’s right. I think people just don’t get that information early on when they first qualify for SSI benefits. That’s my experience. Yeah. Another good reason to connect with that benefits planner.

Susan Harrell (09:16): Yes.

Module 9:
Scott Leonard (00:00):
Okay. The next work incentive is PASS and PASS stands for plan to achieve self-support. So let me just tell you a little bit about what a PASS is or we call them PASS plans. It’s it almost looks like a business plan, but it’s really tied to the person’s work goals. And the person fills out this plan that States, this is my work goal, and these are all the costs associated with my work goal. And I’m going to be paying for these costs to eventually arrive at my work goal. And that usually when a person arrives at that goal, that means that they’re going to be making some money and have a reduction in their benefits. Okay. So that’s the idea about PASS and it’s a mechanism where people can set aside some of their income or resources other than their SSI, because you can’t set SSI aside because they need that for their food and shelter costs and that money that they put into the PASS plan it’s excluded, and it allows them to get some more money back on their SSI check, or it may actually allow them to qualify for SSI. And interestingly, we talked about how SSI has a $2,000 resource limit, but when you have a PASS plan, if you’re setting money aside in a separate bank account, for all the things that are listed in your plan, that account can go larger than $2,000. And it does not violate that $2,000 resource when it, right? Yeah.
It’s, it’s considered an excluded resource because you’re going to be using it to pay for the things that,

Susan Harrell (01:31):
Right. It’s pretty incredible. I mean, it allows people to do things they might not otherwise be able to do in terms of building a training program to achieve better earnings in a career. Being able to hire the people they want to help them be able to do different things. I had people take tutoring and buy computer equipment to be able to go forth and prove that they can do a bigger, better job and get a promotion at work. People have bought vehicles and it’s, and sometimes it’s just a matter of them getting job coaching or being able to roll other kinds of important expenses, things that help them to achieve a higher earnings level into a plan without waiting for another funding source to come around to approve that.

Scott Leonard (02:19):
Right. And you know, the things they person is paying for in their PASS plan, they don’t have to be disability related, say like an Impairment Related Work Expense.

Scott Leonard (02:30):
If a person needs interview clothing that can be folded into a PASS plan, right? Or like you said, a computer, or it could be a vehicle if you can tie it to the work goal and it’s reasonable in price it could get, it could get approved. And I’ve seen PASS plans as short as six months. I’ve seen PASS plans that go on for three years or longer. These, these PASS plans are essentially like a living document as well. So you make predictions about what you need to get to your work goal. But what we find is that the future isn’t exactly as we predicted. And so you can amend your PASS plan over time. And if that gets approved, you can kind of have some sh some shifts in, in what you’re paying for and, and how long it’s going to take for you to reach your work goal.

Scott Leonard (03:16):
Yes, they’re really great Work Incentives. So let’s talk about PASS with earned income. And then we’re going to talk about PASS with unearned income, just as an example so you understand the calculation. So this person has SSI, they’re earning $800 gross per month, and they want to write a PASS plan. Okay. So they write it and it gets approved. This is what happens. They have an $800 in gross wages. They don’t look at $20 for a General Exclusion. They don’t look at $65 for the Earned Income Exclusion, which

brings us to $715, just like we’ve seen with the other calculations, right? They take this figure and divide it by two, which equals $357 and 50 cents. This is the amount that causes the SSI to typically go down. When you write it PASS plan, you say, “okay, well, I’m going to take this amount of money and set it aside in the PASS account”. And Social Security knows that you’re taking that amount of money and putting it into a PASS account. So then they move on to this next calculation. They say, okay, that $357 and 50 cents, you’re going to take that and move it over into a PASS plan

Scott Leonard (04:28):
We have then the person’s full SSI check minus $0 of Countable Earned Income, which equals their full SSI check altogether. The person has $800 in wages. Plus their full SSI check. They then take $357.50 cents of their own money and deposit it in an account that is dedicated to the PASS. And from that account, the person will be paying for those things that they need as detailed in their PASS plan. So here’s the deal. If the person did not have a PASS, their SSI would have been reduced by $357 and 50 cents. With a PASS, their SSI is not reduced, but they put the $357.50 cents of their own money into the PASS. Either way, the person has the same amount of money to live off of, but with a PASS, they have a mechanism to generate this extra money, to pay for items and services to help them reach their work goal.

Susan Harrell (05:27):
Yeah. It’s like getting a bucket of cash to achieve your dreams. It’s pretty amazing. Now, in this example, their income matches so they can maximize the SSI, but that’s not always the case.

Scott Leonard (05:43):
Yeah. That’s a good point, Susan. So sometimes a person might not get the full amount that they’re putting into a PASS account back on their SSI check. It really depends on the total amount of the person’s total income and other factors. But with this example, the person would get reimbursed dollar for dollar.

Susan Harrell (06:01):
So I get this question quite often. What about paying for buying a house or paying your rent?

Scott Leonard (06:10):
Yeah. That is not why they have PASS plans. It is not to help pay for someone’s rent or to buy a house. And it’s, it’s really hard to tie those to a work goal. Right? Right. But there could be accommodations that the person needs at their home that help them be able to get to work or structures in place. And that might be billable through a PASS plan. Right. I find that if people, they can put it into a PASS plan and Social Security will make the decision whether or not to approve it.

Susan Harrell (06:40):
Right. Which is really filling out that paperwork. That’s an in essence, an application for approval with a PASS plan and Social Security will say, “that seems unreasonable, this seems reasonable, what does that have to do with your job?” All of that. Right? But for instance, let’s say an iPhone and some apps…If somebody could tie that to being able to have a structured way of going about performing tasks in their workplace, if it was considered to be reasonable, even though the individual used that at home, as well as work, would that be something that could be approved?

Scott Leonard (07:21):
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Again, Social Security will make the final decision on that, but, you know, I think as people move towards their work goals, identify things that they need to be successful. If they have a PASS plan that can work it in there and see if it gets approved.

Susan Harrell (07:38):
I’ve also often felt like early in my career, I wish I would have known more about how to make these things happen. Although certainly in the ’80’s I was working on writing PASSes. It’s just a lot harder, at least in the area where I was working to be able to get those approved. But they really are like pulling money out of a hat. It’s pretty incredible because the individual defines what it is that they want and what it is that they need. Of course, they have to have Social Security approve it. Like they have to be able to create sort of an argument of need, but they’re not waiting in line in any other way. It’s all about their benefit, picture, their employment picture and what it is that they can say will help them achieve greater independence lessen their dependence on Social Security specifically and ultimately have a much better career as a result.

Scott Leonard (08:30):
Yeah. That’s, that’s so well said.

Susan Harrell (08:32):
Yeah, it’s exciting. I really love them. And I think they’re under utilized.

Scott Leonard (08:37):
I agree. I think they’re on utilize as well. Let’s do an example here of a PASS with unearned income. This person receives SSDI, not SSI. And the reason this person does not receive SSI is because they have too much Unearned Income. SSDI, in this example, to qualify for an SSI benefit check, this person writes a PASS plan and it is approved. So now let’s look at this calculation and see how it works. We start off with the SSDI amount and then subtract the $20 general exclusion to determine the Countable Unearned Income. Now, normally when we are calculating SSI, we would say, okay, take the federal benefit rate and subtract this Countable Unearned Income to determine the SSI amount. And because the Countable Unearned Income is larger than the FBR or Federal Benefit Rate. In this example, the SSI amount would be zero, but with your PASS, something magical kind of happens. So Social Security says, tell you what, if you take your Countable Unearned Income amount from your SSDI check and put that into a PASS account, then for these calculation purposes, your Countable Unearned Income will be zero.

Scott Leonard (09:53):
So now we take the full Federal Benefit Rate minus zero in Countable Unearned Income. And that equals the full Federal Benefit Rate. In essence, what is happening here is that this person was ineligible for SSI, but by writing a PASS and putting a portion of their SSDI check into the sheltered PASS account. They have no Countable Unearned Income and they qualify for SSI. So altogether this person gets their full SSDI check and their full SSI check. And then they place that Countable Unearned Income amount in a dedicated account for PASS.

Susan Harrell (10:32):

You know, Scott, I thought it was so funny when you used the term magical. I’ve often told people that it’s like pulling money out of a hat. So it’s a magic trick thing. And I do look at it that way for people that don’t have a lot of opportunities to really invest in themselves. They’ve just been living check to check in a very small, often poverty riddled way. And a PASS really allows people to grow their opportunities without it costing them a great deal or anything at all, because it would have been money that would have been taken out of their SSI check, or they wouldn’t have gotten an SSI check otherwise. So it’s, it’s really, it is kind of magical. It’s a fantastic opportunity for people to live larger.

Susan Harrell (11:27):
I think a lot of people would ask why it is that we used an example of somebody with Earned Income for a PASS because they already have a job, right? Like, wow, they already have a job, why would Social Security say they want to approve a PASS, right?

Scott Leonard (11:40):
Well, a lot of reasons, I mean, one, the job could just be temporary, for example. Or maybe the person maybe they know they’re going to be leaving that job at some point, but this is an opportunity for them to make more money and have an even smaller benefit.

Scott Leonard (11:54):
And that’s why Social Security makes the investment. They want to see the person have a reduction in their benefits. That’s worth it for them, then they kick in their own money.

Susan Harrell (12:03):
Yeah. Or sometimes you’re writing a PASS when you already know that the person they’ve just started their job, they need maybe lots of training in order to keep their job, maybe to get beyond that probationary period. And you’re writing the PASS when you already know how much income they’re going to be making in the job. And it’s about stabilizing that existing job. So there are many different scenarios that really work well with a PASS.

Scott Leonard (12:26): Right?

Susan Harrell (12:26): Yeah.

Module 10:
Scott Leonard (00:00):
This last Work Incentive that we’re going to talk about is 1619B protection. And we’re just going to touch upon it here because we talk about it more in the presentation on Medicaid. But if a person has SSI check and they’re working and making money from a job, if they make so much money, that it causes that SSI to go down to zero, they actually are still linked to SSI. They maintain their SSI eligibility, and they will also maintain their Medicaid eligibility. And that’s something that people don’t realize. They think that their SSI gets reduced to zero because of money from a job, they lost their SSI and they lost a Medicaid, but that’s not the case. Right? And so there’s some, there’s some conditions the person needs. They have to need Medicaid in order for them to apply 1619B protection, they must continue to experience a disability, continue to follow all the SSI rules and their earnings have to be under an annual threshold.

Scott Leonard (00:59):
We’ve listed here, the annual threshold amount. Now like other figures we have discussed in this training, this 1619B threshold amount tends to go up each year. And as a heads up, sometimes the new 1619B amount isn’t released until after the new year starts. So what this threshold means is that a person can earn wages up to this threshold amount in the year, and they will stay in the SSI program, even though they are not getting an SSI check and they will maintain their Medicaid eligibility.

Susan Harrell (01:32):

Scott Leonard (01:33):
And I’ve heard instances where people actually can make more than that amount of money and maintain their 1619B.

Susan Harrell (01:38):
Right? Yes. With an individualized threshold. Right.

Scott Leonard (01:42):
Right. And that’s based on an individualized threshold is based on how much their expenses are with Medicaid and social security will take that into consideration, correct?

Susan Harrell (01:52):
Right. You know, what happens with 1619B is that they, every state has a different 1619B threshold. And it’s based on the average medical costs in that state, because obviously medical costs vary from state to state right along with a few other factors. It, so they do this computation every year to determine how much would you need to be able to make, to be able to replace the coverage that Medicaid is providing to you.

Susan Harrell (02:21):
And they set an average threshold for each state. And the amount for Washington State is listed below, but just keep in mind that it really differs from state to state. So if you’re in a different state, you can go into a search engine type in your state name, put in 1619B, SSI, and the year. And you’ll be able to see a table that provides you with each and every state’s annual threshold amount. But, for an individualized

threshold, maybe I am high user of medical services, Medicaid-covered services. I can apply to have an individualized threshold where the state that I’m living in, will take a look at how much I’ve used Medicaid. Say what are my Medicaid costs? And if it’s higher than this threshold, it will actually bump you up into a whole individualized set and whole individualized standard. I’ve known people that have had thresholds that were up to $75,000 in recent years because they had so much need for various kinds of medical assistance at costs, right? So it’s really one of these things where this is not an absolute, we just know that this is a baseline for people that you don’t have to worry about this until you make more than the state 1619B Medicaid threshold amount.

Scott Leonard (03:50):
One of the things I’ve noticed around 1619B, that kind of gets people in trouble is they don’t understand the rules about this. So they’re making money. The SSI goes down to zero. That’s great. They don’t realize that their Medicaid is even attached to SSI. They just know that the SSI has been reduced to zero. They think that they’re no longer eligible for SSI and they stop reporting income, or they save more than
$2,000 and they violate the rules of SSI. And then that can kick them off at 1619B. So you have to follow all the rules and people need to continue to report their income on a monthly basis.

Susan Harrell (04:25):
Which is why we really have to try to get the word out to people so that we can provide the support and information that individuals need to be able to continue to proceed in pursuing their dreams in terms of employment and careers, and not have to worry about these things. There’s a lot of complexity. So the more that everyone knows about this, the better we’re able to support individuals and being able to go to work and continue to move upward in their work efforts and make more money over time.

Module 11:
Susan Harrell (00:00):
So now we’re going to move into Resource Protection, and really we’re going to cover two key things that you can do to protect your money, the money that you’re saving, from counting against that resource limit of $2000 for a single individual, $3000 for a couple under the SSI, and often most Medicaid program rules as well. So the first one I want to talk about is Special Needs Trust. These are ways that people can set aside assets that would normally disqualify them from SSI or Medicaid. And there are some provisions that allow these to be considered protected from the resource limit.
Primarily it cannot be used for food and or shelter. Now that’s not a big surprise sense, really supplemental security income SSI is all about basic needs, right? If something can be used for food and shelter, then it’s going to count either as income or resource, or maybe both depending on what period of time we’re talking about, right? So it has to be something that the individual cannot access for food and or shelter, which means that it is usually managed by someone else. And the money is paid out as a reimbursement to the individual. If they’ve already expended the money or paid directly to a vendor, and that could be, could be somebody that provides services or equipment or other things, it could be airline tickets or things like that, where the individual gets a benefit, but it’s not food or shelter. I see. And individuals the individual themselves, or the family members or friends can contribute depending on the type of trust, right? There are different types of trusts, but those are not difficult to, to configure and figure out. In Washington state, we have several pooled trusts that are set up and already established that people can, can get into where they can invest dollars.

Susan Harrell (02:00):
So that would be something we’re talking with a benefits planner again, would be the best bet for being up on where, where are you ABLE to find these trusts? But you could also work with an attorney that specializes in Special Needs Trusts, that needs to be an attorney that specializes in Special Needs Trust, because if they are not set up the right way, they could cause the person to go into overpayment of those Social Security benefits. But it’s certainly a nice way to allow people to be able to have the best benefit from their dollars or the gifts that people give them. Like we were talking about earlier on without it becoming a problem for them. The second way too, that we wanted to highlight in order to protect dollars from counting against the resource limit is this thing called an ABLE.

Susan Harrell (02:53):
This slide shows the information for Washington State. Other States may have also established ABLE Accounts, and you can invest in one of those, even if you’re in another state, not just your home state now, not all of them allow you to invest if you’re from another state, but you should be able to navigate through the information to see which ones are available for out of state folks to invest in there’s information out there about the other States. And you’re able to compare the differences between these ABLE accounts. ABLE accounts are savings accounts. You can save up to a certain amount each year, and if you’re working, you can save even more money annually. That’s a Work Incentive, which is built into this. Those annual limits are shown on this slide. There is a maximum limit to how much money can be sheltered in ABLE for SSI purposes, but wow, it is much higher than the $2,000 resource limit associated with SSI, which is really incredible. And let’s say a person saves beyond that amount and SSI is suspended. They still will be able to maintain their Medicaid eligibility up to a threshold that is even higher. There is an annual fee and some other additional fees, and these are based on investment choices, but they’re pretty nominal.

Susan Harrell (04:35):

And the money is invested in the individual’s choice of risk areas, right? So you get a chance to manage your money as if it’s your own investment portfolio, because it is your own portfolio and you’re not taxed on these investments. So we’ve left the website for the Washington state ABLE accounts up so that you’re able to go there and check that out and get additional information. And I want to talk about ABLE eligibility because not everyone’s eligible for ABLE. The requirements that have been set up within that federal legislation are that you must be somebody that has a significant disability, meaning that you need that definition, that Social Security has poor disability, right? Even if you’re not receiving SSI or SSDI.

Susan Harrell (05:24):
And the onset of your disability, when you were considered to have had this disability and that it meets the definition of a significant disability needs to have happened prior to a certain age, that age is listed on this slide. So what does that mean? I may be over that age and I want to access an ABLE account if my disability occurred before this age listed here. And it was of a significant level at that point, and it continued, I would be able to invest in an ABLE account.

Susan Harrell (06:04):
And if you meet that above criteria and you’re already receiving benefits from SSI or SSDI, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. And those that are not on SSI or SSDI, but they still need that age requirement. They would be eligible to open an ABLE account if they need that definition of disability. And that means that you have significant functional limitations. So there would be a process that you would have to go through to be found eligible for an ABLE account. If you weren’t already on SSI or SSDI, and it was well-established that you had the disability onset occur before the age listed here. Overall, this program is really exciting. It’s a great mechanism for people to utilize and to grow their wealth.

Scott Leonard (06:57):
And you have both a trust and an ABLE account at the same time?

Susan Harrell (07:00):
Yes. And actually when they were rolling this out, I, I took part in a lot of trainings where they had, for instance, investment professionals talking about this exciting new Avenue and how it would all work. And they recommended that you think about this just as you would your own portfolio, where you might have different kinds of investments, not just ABLE with its variety of investments, but different places where you placed money to sort of shore up and make for a more dynamic portfolio. And the exciting thing about ABLE is it gives individuals with disabilities that same opportunity. So I think it’s really exciting and I would encourage you to consider, take a look at it, think about it. And even if you already have a trust, this may be another way to broaden the scope of investments and, and protect those future dollars for yourself. Yeah.

Buck (07:53):
If you want more information about the topics in this training, we welcome you to explore the benefit you website. There, you will find handouts tools, calculation sheets, web links, and other resources to help you navigate your benefits and to make informed decisions as you move toward your life goals. After exploring the benefit you website, if you still have questions, or if you need assistance with a particular matter related to your benefits, you can request benefits planning. When you request

benefits planning, you may be connected to a certified benefits planner who can help you with your benefits situation.

Play Video

Introductions and Overview of Title XVI

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Disability, SSI, and Qualifying Factors

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Benefit Amount and Effect of Living Arrangements and Income

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Accounting Cycle, Reporting Income, and Re-Determination Reviews

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Countable, Earned, and Unearned Income (and calculations)

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Additional Work Incentives

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Blind Work Expense (BWE)

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Student Earned Income Exclusion

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Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS)

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1619(b) Continued Medicaid Eligibility and Annual Thresholds

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Resource Protection Special Needs Trusts and ABLE Account

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SSI - Basic Calculations

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