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Video: A Look at Title II

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

Buck (animated character) (00:00):
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 (00:21):
Welcome to another of our series on How Public Benefits Support Employment. Scott and I will be covering a lot of information today, but we’re going to start off, first, with telling you who we are and why we are interested in this topic. I’m Susan Harrell and I work at Wise. I’ve worked there for the last 20 years, but I actually have 35 years in the field of disabilities and employment. So I really have been focused on trying to help people understand how to make employment work and to reap the benefits. And along the way, a piece of that work has been around Social Security and Medical benefits. I’ve found that those are really important topics for people. So I have worked on training professionals in that topic, as well as helping individuals and families understand what’s going on with benefits through presentations, as well as with individual work. You want to introduce yourself, Scott?

Scott Leonard (01:21):
Yeah, hi everyone. My name is Scott Leonard. I’ve worked in the field of supporting people with disabilities for over 20 years. And for about 15 of those years, I’ve helped people navigate through the different government benefits systems. And I’m actually really excited today to be talking about Title II benefits. I think people have a lot of questions about Title II benefits. It’s not very clear to them when they become eligible for those benefits, how those work and how wages are viewed in regards to those benefits. And so we’ll have an opportunity today to explain all that to you.

Susan Harrell (01:55):
So, for our agenda for the day, we’re going to be giving you an overview of Title II benefits and kind of helping you see the framework of these benefits versus the Title XVI Supplemental Security Income benefits that we spoke about in another, in the previous webinar. And then we’re going to go into talking about Title II benefits and how earned income impacts those benefits. We’re also going to be talking a bit about unearned income when it comes to these benefits and providing you with information about where that falls, how it is seen. And then we’re going to dig into Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA…Work incentives that really help promote the idea of work and help people maximize their benefits at the same time as they’re experiencing work, and talk about what is countable income when it comes to Title II benefits.

Susan Harrell (02:52):
And then we’re going to start talking about the ways in which people need to report their earnings and helping them to think about the framework for record keeping. We have some tips and tricks and ideas about ways in which people can be effective in tracking and keeping those records so that they’re able to utilize those if they’re ever at a review point. So why is understanding Title II benefits and work incentives important? This is, again, one of those things where the work that we do is really surrounding helping people address their fears and helping them to understand exactly what is going on with their benefits and in relationship, particularly to work what’s going to happen. We really find that that reduces those misunderstandings and myths that people have that seem to spread like wildfire. Once one person has an experience, they sometimes convey information that may not be entirely accurate and that word spreads and the fear spreads.

Susan Harrell (03:56):
We also really want to address preventing the possibility of a crisis because more information tends to help people remain safe when it comes to not getting into overpayment situations with benefits. And then we want to help people understand how they can earn and save money and still remain eligible for essential benefits. Maybe they move away from some of those public benefits because work provides more for them, but there are essential benefits that sometimes people need to remain eligible for. And there are ways in which you can do that. We also want to really ultimately help improve employment and economic outcomes. We want people to be able to have wealth, to be able to grow their savings and grow their earnings over time. And we know from a study that the state of Vermont did many years ago around benefits planning that benefits planning is effective in increasing those employment rates and increasing earnings, and also in decreasing medical expenses because helping people go to work is healthy. It helps them to actually reduce their need for some of the medical services that they receive. So it’s a good thing.

Scott Leonard (05:14):
So let’s just do sort of a high level overview of Title II benefits, okay?

Susan Harrell (05:20):

Scott Leonard (05:22):
So we’re going to start off by just talking about the history of Social Security just briefly, because it creates a context and understanding this benefit for people with disabilities and how it differs from say SSI, Social Security didn’t begin until 1935. And it was in response to the great depression. People had spent their lives working, saving money, investing money. And then when the depression hit, people lost some or even all of that money. There was no safety net and there wasn’t really a retirement benefit to help people. And so that’s why they created a Social Security. So now when we pay our FICA taxes for paying into our retirement, so when we hit retirement age, we may be eligible to collect some retirement benefits. Yes. So at the time there was nothing really available for people with disabilities that didn’t happen until 1954. In 1954, they created Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI.

Scott Leonard (06:24):
And we’re going to be talking about that benefit today. SSDI is for people who’ve been working, paying into Social Security, and now their disability affects their ability to work. They may be eligible for some SSDI. At the same time in 1954, they created a program called Disabled Adult Children, or DAC is how it was commonly referred to. Now Disabled Adult Children is a benefit for people who have a disability, but it started when they were younger under the age of 22. But now they’re an adult. If that person’s parent retires and collects benefits from Social Security or becomes disabled and collect benefits from Social Security, or if the parent dies and could have qualified for Social Security, the adult son or daughter can actually collect a benefit based off of the parent’s work history. So those are Title II benefits, Disability Insurance and Disabled Adult Children. That’s what we’ll be focusing on today.

Scott Leonard (07:26):
And then in 1974, Supplemental Security Income got going. It was actually signed into law in 1972, but it didn’t really get going in the country until 1974. It’s different than SSDI. It’s not focused on a person’s work history as much as a person who is aged, blind, and disabled and they have economic need. So they need some money to pay for their basic food and shelter costs. And we have a whole other training that we’ve done on Supplemental Security Income. If you want to know more about that program, we welcome you to listen to that.

Scott (00:00):
Let’s talk about the definition of disability. It’s one of those things we could talk about for a long time, but here we will just do a high level overview at disability for social security purposes is defined as the following first, the disability must be considered to be substantial. That is it. It results in the inability to work at substantial gainful activity. Now substantial gainful activity is a wordy term. So we tend to use the abbreviation SGA when talking about it. And SGA is something you’re going to hear a lot about in this training. Buck, come on in here and show us the latest SGA figures. Let’s take a look at these numbers first. You’ll see that there are two different SGA amounts. One amount is for people who do not experience blindness and the other is for people who are considered blind by social security’s definition.

Susan (00:58):
Now, Scott, what do these amounts mean?

Scott (01:03):
They’re used by social security to determine if a person is working at SGA. If a person is not blind and their monthly calendar earnings are above that 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 folks stay up to date with the most current SGA figures.

Susan (01:42):
You know, Scott, this brings up a question. I see that the blind SGA amount is much higher than the non- blind SGA amount. Why are they so different?

Scott (01:53):
Yeah, that’s a good question. My understanding is that the blind community simply had really good lobbyists and they were able to lobby for a different set of limits and rules around their social security benefits. Is that your understanding as well, Susan?

Susan (02:09):
Yes. That’s what I’ve heard as well. Um, and in fact, this is not the only place where you see people with blindness having a different set of rules. There is a work incentive with another cash benefit, for example, that is available only to people who experienced blindness. I do get asked that question a lot though. So I thought, you know, I just play the audience here a bit and throw that out here. Right?

Scott (02:34):
Yeah. It’s interesting for sure, because it, it definitely shows the power of lobbying. Okay, let’s get back to this definition of disability. We talked about how a disability must be considered substantial and that it results in the inability to work at SGA. In addition to this, a disability must be considered terminal, which means it will result in death, or which means that the person’s disabling condition has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. And one more thing about this definition of disability, the 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, it no longer applies. But if a person becomes eligible for title two benefits, which is what we’re discussing in this training, SGA will be looked at closely during different periods when a person is working. And we’ll go over that later in this training.

Susan (03:40):
Now, Scott, there’s another question I get asked, or really it’s more like a scenario. Let’s say that I’m driving and I get into a car accident. I end up having an injury that causes me not to be able to work. It’s substantial gainful activity, and it’s expected that I’m going to be down for six to eight months. Now, looking at this definition of disability, does this mean I wouldn’t be able to apply for social security and get benefits if my injury won’t last up to 12 months?

Scott (04:13):
Uh, well let me answer that by first, just giving some general information. Um, first I think that a person is of course, welcome to apply for social security benefits. And a part of that application process with social security is creating the argument and providing the evidence of what the disability is, how it impacts one’s ability to work and how long it will last. If there are supporting letters from doctors that state that this disabling condition will last 12 months or longer, that information will likely influence social security’s decision. But in this scenario, Susan, if the disability is not expected to last 12 months, I think it’s not likely that the application will get approved. What do you think?

Susan (04:59):
Yes. I, I think the difficult thing about this is that recovery could be different for an individual. And what a doctor initially says could be quite different than reality for that person. However, you do have to meet both measures, your disabling condition needs to be long-term or terminal. And it has to result in not being able to work at substantial gainful activity. So meeting both of those measures is not as simple as people make it seem on the face of it. When they say anybody can get social security, you definitely have to prove you meet all of the definition they have for disability to become eligible.

Susan Harrell (00:00):
Susan Harrell: So I want to talk a little bit about the Social Security disability focused programs. And I really think about them in two different umbrellas. The first is Title II. This is the one we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about today. And yet I still want people to understand that there’s this other benefits so they can begin to sort out the differences in the benefits people receive. So this is Title II that we’re focused on today. It’s also known as Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDII. There’s also Social Security Childhood Disability Benefits or SSCDB. And that’s the benefit that you referred to being a part of the framework of the introduction of disability benefits within Social Security back in 1954. And it was called Social Security for the disabled adult child at that time. So there’s been a movement of terms into this new Social Security childhood disability benefits label for the original benefit for children, for adult children.

Susan Harrell (01:06):
There’s another benefit here that we’re not going to talk a lot about today, but I don’t want to let it go unnoticed that there is Social Security for disabled widows or widowers. Now that benefit the reason we’re not spending a lot of time talking about it. It is specifically defined around an age group and a specific population. And so we don’t come upon it very often. We felt like that was one of those things where if you needed more information about that, you could certainly contact us and we could help provide that it still flows within the Title II program still has the same measures in terms of earnings and work efforts and have…uUsing work incentives and things like that. But it’s a very small window that people have to fit into to be eligible for that benefit. Now, I also wanted to note that people tend to call Title II benefits, SSA, or regular Social Security.

Susan Harrell (02:04):
That’s usually the way they label it when they are talking about this benefit. And it kind of gives us a clue at times about what’s going on with their benefit picture. The other umbrella is Title XVI or supplemental security income SSI, which we did cover in the previous session. And we have available for you. And so if you’re interested in that benefit please feel free to let us know so that we can provide you with that information. But really we’re not going to be focused so much on that today. We’re gonna just look right at Title II and move through that benefit so that you have a more full understanding of, of that particular benefit for folks.

Susan Harrell (02:46):
So talking about qualifying factors, how is it that somebody qualifies? And this is really about how do they tap into the funding, right? It is funding that it comes through the Social Security trust fund, and that means that you have to be able to have worked and have insured status on your own record, or a parent or spouse has worked in, has insured status, meaning that I’d be drawing off of their record. And that means that that person needs to be retired, deceased or disabled. So they have to be actively drawing off of their own record or deceased. In other words, in order for somebody else to be drawing off the record, too, for instance, a spouse or an adult child under the Childhood Disability Benefits.

Scott Leonard (03:39):
Scott Leonard: Susan, I have a question about this slide. What if someone has worked and paid into Social Security and they could qualify for SSDI, but they have a disability that started when they’re young and their parents say has retired. Can they qualify for both SSDI and the Childhood Disability Benefits?

Susan Harrell (03:56):
Susan: It’s possible. Yeah. The way that it works is they look at the highest benefit amount. Okay. And the priority is to have the person draw off of their own record. But let’s say that we’re looking at a child and adult child that would qualify under childhood disability benefits. And the parent, the benefit the child could draw off of a parent’s record would be, let’s say $1,500 a month, but on their own record, that child has worked enough that they could draw a thousand dollars on their own record. The way that Social Security does this is look at the maximum benefit amount of $1,500. But the first thousand does drawn off of the child’s own record, the adult child’s own record, and then the remainder would be added in from the parent’s record. So sometimes that means that you see on an individual’s letter, a couple of Social Security members, meaning they’re drawing off of more than one record.

Scott Leonard (04:56):
Scott: I see. So they don’t, they don’t add those benefits separately, you get the, you get basically get the higher of the two.

Susan Harrell (05:04):
Susan: Yes. Altogether. Yeah. And you know, that’s a common question. I do get that quite a lot.

Susan Harrell (00:00):
So how much is the benefit with Title II? It’s very different than SSI. SSI we know that there’s a maximum benefit amount as we spoke of last week, but with SSDII or SSCDB. So either drawing on your own record or drawing off of a parent’s record, the benefit varies. And it is based on the insured workers FICA payroll deductions and their work history, right? So there’s there’s factors that are involved and it means that the computation for the actual benefit amount is going to, it’s very individualized. They look across time with the worker and figure that out and you get a clue about it because social security provides statements about, you know, how much you would draw at retirement. How much would you draw? If you became disabled, they provide information, but that’s really just a hint at what the amount might be in the end.

Susan Harrell (00:57):
If you become eligible for these benefits, they go through computations and they determine the amount to be paid. And it may be a bit different than what you’re seeing on those estimates that they provide you. The other thing I wanted to point out on this page is that we’ve made note of the medical benefit that’s associated with each benefit type. So with Title II, Medicare is attached to that benefit. So an individual eventually, and we’re to talk about this more next week, but eventually they become eligible for Medicare. If they are eligible for a benefit under Title II. So either SSDII or SSCDB, they would be connected with Medicare. Doesn’t mean they wouldn’t necessarily be connected with Medicaid because sometimes people can carry eligibility in both programs. But the primary medical program that is attached to Title II benefits is Medicare. And you’ll notice that with SSI, we made note of this last week that Medicaid is automatically attached to the SSI benefit.

Scott Leonard (02:02):
Susan, I have a quick question about this slide. You were talking about the benefit check, depends on the person’s work history and paying into social security. What, what if it’s based off of a parent, is it just based off of, do they get the full amount that the parent gets from social security or what would a person who qualifies for Childhood Disability Benefits get it’s based off of the parents’ work history.

Susan Harrell (02:25):
They’d typically be 50% with a living parent, but there are a number of things that are involved in determining how much the child gets, like how many other dependents may be drawing off of that record. And so, you know, that’s another thing that makes it a little bit hard to estimate, but, but the base is that it would be 50% typically.

Scott Leonard (02:47):
I see. Okay. Thank you.

Susan Harrell (02:50):
You’re going to just really knock me out with all of this stuff. Questions here early on. (laughs)

Susan Harrell (02:56):
So what happens if other income is received? Now, this is where we start talking about Substantial Gainful Activity. As you spoke of earlier on, when we talked about the definition of disability for application, and then you alluded to the fact that when it comes to Title II benefits, that Substantial

Gainful Activity remains, right? It’s something that is a measure over time of whether the person can continue to receive the benefit. So if other income is received, it’s, it’s really going to be measured against Substantial Gainful Activity if it’s around earnings. So earnings is really the important term here. It’s, it’s a level of functioning that somebody has their capability to earn in a workplace is the way that social security determines. If the person is functioning at a level that meets the definition of disability and what they compare it against assist Substantial Gainful Activity amount, this measure is something that we’re going to talk about more as we go along today, because it’s very important, if somebody is on Title II, for you to understand that earnings are not necessarily the gross amount that they get in a paycheck, because it’s about their level of functioning. And so there are a number of things that you can consider when you’re thinking about whether they’re earning the full, gross wage amount that they get paid each month. And I think this is one of the things that is the most confusing piece for a lot of people. I, I have come across so many situations where an individual is being helped by professionals. And they’re told something that’s sort of a rule of thumb statement. Like, you’ll be fine. As long as you don’t make more than a thousand dollars a month. Have you heard that too? And it’s really a shame because that’s not really taking a good full look at the individual situation and determining what’s going on in the workplace when it comes to Substantial Gainful Activity. And that means that we’re limiting people and sometimes condemning them to live in poverty as a result of the lack of information that we have.

Scott Leonard (05:10):
Oh, I totally agree with that. I think with SSDI and Childhood Disability Benefits much more than SSI, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of fear about losing those benefits.

Susan Harrell (05:21):
Right. And you’ve noticed that none of these slides speak to resource issues. Right. And I think we didn’t even have that even as a piece of this whole, the last few slides and the whole thing about that is that resources and that resource limit we talked about with SSI. It doesn’t apply when it comes to Title II benefits, right? Not straight Title II and Medicare. When somebody got that kind of a benefit picture, they don’t have to worry about that resource limit. And yet, so many people are told you can’t have more $2,000 in resources, right. And that again, limits their ability to live as completely and fully as they’d be able to. So information about these things is really important.

Scott Leonard (06:08):
Absolutely. And I’ve seen instances where people are told by social security, Hey, you get SSDI, there is no resource restriction, but then they may have another benefit in their life. Maybe from the state that does have a $2,000 resource limit. Right. And that’s just another example as to why it’s really helpful to have a benefits planner analyze the person’s situation and all of their benefits and sort of come up with the parameters of those rules, right.

Susan Harrell (06:35):
Then often a benefits planner has lots of strategies that they can bring to the table to help enhance the person’s situation and allow them typically it’s to keep medical benefits that they’re most concerned about, but allow them to be planful and moving along with their benefits, picture in mind and proceeding to progress wage-wise savings wise as they go along as the rest of us want to do without all of those concerns.

Scott Leonard (07:03):

Scott Leonard (00:00):
Now we are going to be talking about Earned Income and Title II benefits. We’ve already been alluding to it, but now we’re going to drill down and really look at how Social Security views Earned Income and how that affects Title II benefits.

Susan Harrell (00:17):
Now, looking at this slide, it’s obviously not such a simple thing, the way they view Earned Income. And so we’re going to have to give you some examples, but I wanted to provide a visual for those of you who are process oriented so that you can see the Social Security process for looking at earnings with the Title II benefits. We begin with a Trial Work Period, and this is a period of time where Social Security measures those months when your gross wages hit the Trial Work Period amount. But please show the trial work amount for the current year. Now, to be clear, this is a time when Social Security measures your gross wages. It’s the only time with Title II benefits that they measure gross wages rather than countable earnings during this period every month when gross wages are more than the Trial Work Period amount, it will count as one Trial Work Period month.

Susan Harrell (01:18):
Now this part can be confusing. And we’re going to give you an example later, but the idea here is that across the five-year period, if I get to a point where I have a total of nine of these months, when I’ve hit that Trial Work Period amount, then this phase, the Trial Work Period phase will end. Now, the thing is, this is a rolling window of time. So they’re looking across a chunk of five years and seeing if I hit nine Trial Work Period months collectively, if I didn’t, then they’re going to move the window forward. And that window continues moving forward until I get to a point where they can see that I have hit nine Trial Work Period months.

Scott Leonard (02:05):
Okay, I’m following…

Susan Harrell (02:07):
Now. I think one of the most important things about this is that you receive a benefit check regardless of those gross wages. So I could be making $5,000 a month and yeah, they’re going to count it as Trial Work Period month, because it’s clearly over the Trial Work Period amount, but I’m still going to get a benefit check. They’re not going to just stop it because I made $5,000. And so I really consider this to be a great time for people to be able to test out employment, to see how it really works, to see if they can get to a place where they can experience abundance with employment, really go big with it. And, you know, often what happens is that we’re still limiting people and they get that mistaken rule of thumb.

Don’t make more than a thousand dollars a month. Even across this period of time where they could actually fully experience how employment might really look to them, they could really have as much as they want and still have that protected benefit check.

Susan Harrell (03:14):
So that’s the first phase. And once person completes this Trial Work Period, then they move automatically into a 36 month period called the Extended Period of Eligibility or EPE. Now, this is when the measure is going to truly be Substantial Gainful Activity as to whether the person receives a check or not. So typically if I make more than Substantial Gainful Activity in earnings, I won’t get a check, but if I make less than Substantial Gainful Activity in earnings, I will get a check. So it’s off again on again, it’s

clear cut. It’s. It’s not like SSI where the check gradually goes down as your earnings go up. This is an on again, off again thing. And this lasts for 36 months. So again, you maintain eligibility. If you are above Substantial Gainful Activity and you don’t get aTitle II check, it’s just this period of time when you don’t get a check.

Susan Harrell (04:17):
And then the very next month, if you earn less than SGA, you get a check, right? Right. Kind of confusing though. I don’t know why they made it this hard, but they did. And then we’re gonna move into the Post Extended Period of Eligibility. And this is a period of time where they’re going to continue to measure Substantial Gainful Activity. But the thing is is that if you earn over a Substantial Gainful Activity after this 36 month Extended Period of Eligibility, when you’re in this Post EPE phase, benefits will terminate. So that’s when everything is all done and the trick is measuring exactly where somebody is with all of this, right. And to make it even more confusing, Scott. They have this thing that I think is really considered a bonanza or a benefit, but it’s called the Grace Period. And the Grace Period is this, I call it almost like the Jacob’s ladder thing where you hold one card and two more fall down from that card.

Susan Harrell (05:20):
It is this three free months of benefits when you are first earn above SGA, either in the Extended Period of Eligibility or in the Post EPE Post Extended Period of Eligibility period. So the first time I earned Substantial Gainful Activity, I’m going to get a benefit check if I still have my Grace Period remaining.
And then next two consecutive months, I’ll get one as well. And this is regardless of those other months or above or below SGA, it’s just like they throw in three free months. Right? And that will, with me, if I don’t use it in the Extended Period of Eligibility, I’ll be able to apply it to that Post EPE period. Now, this is also confusing that it’s always good to run through some examples, right. Which is, I’m so thankful that we have those prepared to help people. But I’m gonna look at you because I’m thinking you have questions. I can see it in your eyes.

Scott Leonard (06:20):
Actually, I’m gonna hold off on those questions, because I think when we go into each one of these areas, we’ll have an opportunity to talk about it. And then you can ask me some questions.

Susan Harrell (06:28):
That’ll be great. So, so here’s the thing though. This graphic is mostly to tell you that there is a process and the process go through, it goes from the Trial Work Period. And it’s a non-consecutive period of time. In other words, we’re just looking at a five-year window. When I earned over that Trial Work Period amount in gross wages, right? Then we move into the Extended Period of Eligibility that 36 month period. And it just automatically comes into play. Once I finished the Trial Work Period. And then once those 36 months are up, I move into this Post EPE thing. So that piece is fairly clear, but measuring how somebody is doing in each of those pieces, this is the part that becomes more confusing.

Scott Leonard (07:13):
I totally agree. Yeah. I think this slide, that’s why that, where is that slide that we’re looking at is really good is something that you print out and you hold onto, right? Because it’s a lot of information that we’ve condensed into one page, but for the purposes of this presentation, we’re going to look at the, each one of these, the Trial Work Period and the Extended Period of Eligibility, and really drill down and understand what those mean. And then we’ll talk them just a little bit about the post EPE and also the Grace Period.

Susan Harrell (07:40): Right.

Scott Leonard (07:40): Okay.

Scott Leonard (00:00):
Let’s now look at a trial work period example. What we have here is a calendar. And for this example, we’re showing three years Buck, you come in and show the Trial Work Period amount for each year. Great. I want to make a couple of points about these figures. First, you can see that we’re showing you Trial Work Period of mounts from past years, and we’re doing this because it allows our examples in this training to make sense as we move from the Trial Work Period to the next period, which is the Extended Period of Eligibility, we will arrive at current years and figures. And second, you can see how the Trial Work Period amounts tend to go up every year. If you ever want to know what the amount will be for the next year, that figure along with many of Social Security’s figures, is usually released around December sometimes earlier. And if you do a web search on Trial Work Period, at that time, this information will usually appear at the top of your search results.

Susan Harrell (01:04):
You know while that change is a blessing, it does give people a higher mark to hit, but it also makes it confusing for people.

Well that is true, and people will need to put in the effort to keep track of these changing figures. Now we’re going to assume in this example that the person has SSDI, but she could have any Title II benefit such as childhood disability benefits, for example, and the same Trial Work Period rules would apply. We’re also going to assume that the trial work period started in January, but really it could have started in may or October. We’re just using January because it’s easy to do with this calendar layout.

Scott (02:05):
Let’s look at the first year, it appears that this person was not working until around July and from July through October, she earned a little bit of money for each of those months. Her gross wages were clearly below the Trial Work Period amount. So she did not accrue any Trial Work Period months. During that time, she also was eligible for her full SSDI check for every month in that year. Now let’s look at year two. You can see she begins working again in April and in June. Her gross wages increase significantly so much that she is over the Trial Work Period amount. If you look at the entire year, you can see that she is over the Trial Work Period amount for the months of June, July, and December, which we’ve highlighted here in red for this year. She earned a total of three Trial Work Period months.

Susan (03:05):
So Scott, what happens to her benefit check during these three months?

Ah, well, she still receives her SSDI check. This is a period when Social Security is tracking her work in relation to those trial work period amounts, but she is not at risk of losing her Social Security check. Like you described earlier, Susan, this is a period where a person really can take risks and give work a try. Now earlier, Susan, you also talked about that five-year goal in period. And I want to talk more about that here. We know that Social Security can only look back five years when counting trial work period months, that essentially means that each Trial Work Period of month has a five-year expiration date. So let’s look at that with this example, we’ll say that this person stopped working after December of the second year, and isn’t employed again far into the future.

Scott (04:00):
We can see that she has a total of three Trial Work Period months. Now let’s do some time travel. We are going to leap five years into the future and land on June. When we wrap up June five years in the future, the Trial Work Period month, that’s she earned five years ago, it expires. It goes away. And that means that she now only has two trial work period months. We next move on to July five years in the future. And Social Security can only look back up to five years. So when we roll on to August or Trial Work Period month, this year earned in July five years ago, it also expires. And she now only has one Trial Work Period month. That’s what we mean by a rolling five-year period. Now, there is a very important point for folks to know…Once a person has nine trial work period months, the Trial Work Period ends. Think of it as leaving a room and locking the door.

Scott (04:58):
And there is no longer a five-year look back that five-year rolling period only exists while a person is actively in the Trial Work Period. Okay, now let’s move to the third year. You can see that she has wages throughout the year, and we’ve highlighted here all the months when she hit the Trial Work Period amount assigned for the year. That would be January, August, September, October, November, and December. Now let’s add up all the months highlighted in red on this calendar. She earned three Trial Work Period months in the second year and six trial work period of months in the third year. This means that she hits her ninth Trial Work Period month in December of the third year. And once she has earned nine trial work period of months, she has done with the Trial Work Period. She leaves a room and locks the door leaving behind the Trial Work Period and the ruling five-year period.

Scott (05:56):
And she moves on to the next period, the Extended Period of Eligibility. And by the way, you’ll notice here that the Trial Work Period ended in the month of December. We just did that out of convenience. You know, in reality the Trial Work Period could have ended in say August if August was for ninth Trial Work Period month.

You know, what I find interesting about this example is that it kind of looks like the person is being cautious when going back to work, of course it could just be the type of jobs they were offered and how much she could work. But it kind of looks like she tried to maintain wages that were under Substantial Gainful Activity, as we’ve talked about before and keep in mind SGA or Substantial Gainful Activity, doesn’t apply during the Trial Work Period. So I see this and I think she didn’t get good information about where she is in all of these phases so that she could take full advantage of what the Trial Work Period could offer.

Scott (06:58):
Oh yeah, for sure. You have to wonder about that. Is this person keeping her income low because she heard that if she makes too much money, she’s going to lose her benefits and you do run into people who have made that decision based on, you know, incorrect or incomplete information. There’s a lot of myths out there.

Yeah. And there’s something else that I’ve noticed, you know, that the Trial Work Period goes up year by year. The Trial Work Period amount was quite low 20 years ago. People who had been working in the past may have been hitting those Trial Work Period amounts as they were going along. And they completed that Trial Work Period without even realizing it. And I see this happen quite a lot with people with whom I’ve worked, they have a long history of work that may be the kind of sporadic work that sometimes happens for folks. And I’ll ask them about that work. And they’ll say they haven’t really worked, but when I get the information from Social Security and I actually look at their record, I can see that they did work. They just thought it was minimal because looking back if the Trial Work Period amount was just a couple of hundred dollars, it may not have seemed like they really worked, Oh, I just did a few, you know, odds and ends things here and there. And yet it actually measured as a Trial Work Period month, way back when.

Yeah, that is so true. I’ve experienced that as well. You know, when you first start working with a person as a benefits planner, unless you have the information from Social Security or the person has kept really good documentation, you really don’t know where they are in terms of their Trial Work Period or Extended Period of Eligibility. You’ll happen to have to do research to get that information. And it’s so important. It, it absolutely is. And actually part of the reason it’s not always so clear is due to the way that Social Security collects information about people’s earnings. We’ll actually be talking a little bit more about that later in this training.

Scott Leonard (00:00):
Now that the Trial Work Period has ended. Let’s jump into the next period. The Extended Period of Eligibility since the Trial Work Period ended in December, the Extended Period of Eligibility will begin in January. Of course, we arranged it this way because that’s just nice and easy when using a calendar for the example, but in real life, this next period can start in March or November or whatever the first month is after the Trial Work Period ends. Now it’s important to know that the Extended Period of Eligibility has a different set of rules than the Trial Work Period. So to start off with the Extended Period of Eligibility lasts exactly three years or 36 months, there is no five-year rolling period.

Susan Harrell (00:47):
Oh, thank God. (laughs)

Scott Leonard (00:49):
Yeah. I know one last thing to keep track of. So if the Extended Period of Eligibility starts in March of year one, it will run through February of year three, exactly 36 months. For this example, since this period started in January of year one, it will run through December of year three and next, unlike during the Trial Work Period, Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA is going to now be looked at by Social Security. And that’s a term Susan that you and I talked about earlier in this training and in very general terms during this Extended Period of Eligibility, if a person is considered as performing SGA in a month, the person may not be eligible for a Title II benefit check for that month. And on the flip side, if the person does not perform SGA in a month, the person would get a Title II benefit check for that month. And that pattern goes on for these three years. But of course, like many things in life it’s actually a little bit more complicated than that.

Susan Harrell (01:58):
No doubt. It’s like trying to untangle a really knotted up ball of yarn.

Scott Leonard (02:05):
Unfortunatel, yes. But don’t worry everyone we’ll, we’ll help you through this. Okay. Let’s take a look at this calendar. It’s been populated with earnings for each month and to consider if SGA has performed during this period, we need to know the SGA amounts for each year, but come on in and show us these amounts. We’re also going to assume that this person is not blind, so the non blind SGA amount will be used. We’re going to start with the first year. If you look at all the gross earnings earned in the months throughout this year, you can see that she never had monthly earnings over the monthly SGA amount assigned for that year. SGA was never performed every month that she worked. She also received her SSDI check. Now let’s move on to year two. It looks like she stopped working around March and started working again in June and then stopped working again until December. So looking closely. Did her earnings ever hit the SGA amount for that year? No. She never performed SGA. She receives her SSDI check for every month in year two.

Scott Leonard (03:20):
Now let’s move on to year three. Let’s take a close look here. In January. She is below SGA, but in February she earned so much money that she is over SGA for that month. Now, I told you earlier that if a person performs SGA in a month during this three-year period, that person will not get a benefit check. Well, I kind of lied. There’s actually an exception. If you remember, way back when, Susan talked about a three month Grace Period, the Grace Period, which is highlighted in blue in this example occurs when a person first performs SGA, this Grace Period lasts exactly three months. And during this time the person still receives a T0itle II benefit check in those three months. Now, no matter how much the person makes during that time. So looking at this example, she performed SGA in February, March, and April.

Scott Leonard (04:16):
But since she is in her Grace Period, she still received her SSDI check for each of the three months. Now, just to be clear, you only get one Grace Period during this Extended Period of Eligibility. After the Grace Period is done, any months after afterward, when the person performs SGA, the personable not be eligible for a Title II check. If you look at this example, we highlighted in red the months when she performed SGA, those would be May, August and October through December. And during these months when she performed SGA, she is not entitled to an SSDI check.

Susan Harrell (04:59):
So Scott, I, I have two questions. One is, that Grace Perio…What if she didn’t use it during her Extended Period of Eligibility? What if she never worked over SGA during that period of time? What happens with the Grace Period?

Scott Leonard (05:19):
Yeah. Susan, that’s a good question. So, so really if a person has not used their Grace Period during the Extended Period of Eligibility, when they leave that period, they’re going to go into something called the post Extended Period of Eligibility. And we’ll be talking a little bit about that and if they haven’t used their Grace Period already, they can actually use it during that time then.

Susan Harrell (05:43):
Okay. Thank you. And then also I see these numbers up here and I’m wondering, are we talking about gross wages that you’re showing in year one, year two, and year three?

Scott Leonard (05:55):
That’s a great question. And we’re going to talk more later about how Social Security looks at countable earned income, but generally yes, at least as a starting point, they’re looking at gross wages. Now, more specifically, they’re looking at gross wages that are earned in a month, not received in the month. And that’s a place where people can get tripped up. So let’s say that I get a paycheck from my job on March 1st. It wouldn’t actually count toward March. Rather it would count as gross wages for February, because that is when I earned the money. I think the easiest way to track this. And I do encourage people to track their wages while receiving Title II benefits is to know their hourly wage and to keep track of the hours they actually work in a month.

Susan Harrell (06:47):
And then knowing that there may be other things that reduce the amount of wages that are counted when it comes to SGA, because SGA, as you said, is, is about what you have earned, not about your gross wages. And it’s kind of a trick because the Trial Work Period looks at gross wages while in the Extended Period of Eligibility, Social Security is actually looking at earnings. So it’s a moving target. I consider these benefits to be those that it’s almost a given. If someone really wants to go as hard as they can, towards their ability to work and make more money and have the kind of career paths that the rest of us have, they really need benefits planning. That really is a rule of thumb for people on Title II benefits. That benefits planning is an essential service. If they’re looking at maximizing the way they earn money in the community.

Scott Leonard (07:48):
Oh yeah. Well stated Susan, I completely agree. Let’s talk about a few more points here where this example, we know the Extended Period of Eligibility lasts exactly 36 months. So in this example, it ends in December of year three, what happens in January of the next year? And we talked a little bit about that. Well, in January, this person goes into a post Extended Period of Eligibility. And from that point forward, beginning in January, in this example, if she does not perform SGA, she continues to receive a Title II benefit check on a monthly basis. But as soon as she does perform SGA in a month, she stops receiving a Title II check for that month and all months forward, she doesn’t rebound like in the Extended Period of Eligibility and immediately qualify for a Title II check in the next month. If her earnings fall below SGA, rather her cash benefits will simply stop. And the only exception to this would be the Grace Period that we were talking about earlier. If she had never performed SGA and not used her Grace Period and the Extended Period of Eligibility, she could use it in this post Extended Period of Eligibility, which means that the first time she performs SGA, she would be eligible to receive Title II checks for that month, the next two months. But then after that, her Title II benefits would stop.

Susan Harrell (09:19):
Right, and I’ve seen the scenario where a person works sporadically during their Extended Period of Eligibility. And they achieve SGA earnings a couple of times. And then they get beyond the Extended Period of Eligibility and they get a new job when they make over SGA. And it feels like all of the sudden unexpectedly the benefit check stops. And that scenario supports the story that I hear about, “Hey, you just have to be careful because the first time I really worked, they stopped my check”. And that’s not the case. If you map it out, but individuals are unaware that they are making their way through these various phases. Once you complete that Trial Work Period, everything else is a consecutive thing. So they could be well beyond the Trial Work Period and the Extended Period of Eligibility. And yes, indeed the first time they work, it’s Substantial Gainful Activity. After those two phases are done, the check could stop given the Grace Period, maybe applying for a few months, but it can seem really sudden. And it’s really hard for people.

Scott Leonard (10:37):
Yeah, it’s a good example. Especially as to why benefits planning should happen as early as possible. A person can then start tracking from that point forward and have an understanding about what may happen in the future. When they say accept a promotion, or they have an opportunity for a new job and they can plan accordingly.

Susan Harrell (11:00):
You really do have to map it out and you have to put the numbers in. You have to figure out when everything happened or could happen because where it happens, where you get those checks and those earnings are counted, it matters greatly, right?

Scott Leonard (11:19):
And if people want to come off of benefits, having this information will help them, you know, plan to some degree, as we’ve seen these Title II checks are all or nothing benefit checks. And so people can do some early financial planning and be prepared when they say except that full-time job and stop receiving their checks.

Susan Harrell (11:41):
And I think it’s really important to convey information is such a way that as people are making decisions, this is part of that framework because I really believe that a lot of the time, people really do want to move away from these benefits. If the, and they understand the benefit of doing that, and they’re able to work to their maximum capability and not be all hemmed in because this can be a ball and chain really, it keeps people from living the lives that they otherwise would really want. And my experience tells me that typically an individual is willing to move away from the benefits, if they can maximize earnings. Their biggest concern is around those medical benefits. So if we can help them secure those, and there are lots of ways to do that as we’ll discuss in another training if they’re able to do that, they are able to plan and eventually move away from reliance on Title II benefits, and they end up with a bigger, better life.

Scott Leonard (00:00):
Scott: We have this one slide here for folks to be aware about increases in minimum wage. You can see here the minimum wage amounts for this year and past years, as well as SGA amounts for this year and past years, let’s say that a person is in their extended period of eligibility or their Post Extended Period of Eligibility they’re working. And they’re kind of close to SGA. The next year rolls around and there is an increase to minimum wage. And due to this increase, their wages go up and suddenly, even though the person’s work hasn’t changed, they are above SGA and they may now potentially lose our Title II benefits.

Susan Harrell (00:45):
Susan: I’ve had people ask me questions about this, like this, is there a way for us to say it was just an increase in minimum wage. It really wasn’t a level of functioning kind of measure. And, you know, in reality it isn’t. Because the starting point is that you look at gross wages though, and then we apply some work incentives to see what the actual earnings level is when we’re comparing it to SGA. If your gross wages go up, even if it’s because of a minimum wage increase, you have to increase your starting point considerably sometimes. Right?

Scott Leonard (01:24):
Scott: Well, there’s certainly can be an argument about if that’s fair, but regardless you’re right. Those are the rules. I don’t know. Perhaps there could be a conversation on a national level about the impact of these minimum wage increases on a person’s cash benefits and, and start some movement to changing these rules.

Susan Harrell (01:44):
Susan: I put that in my “pie in the sky” list and sometimes my “pie in the sky” list delivers. So I think it’s worthwhile to help people be aware and collect information because we can sometimes speak into, you know, a variety of conversations about these changes. And this is a situation that’s been startling to people. And so for now, for those individuals that are right on that line with SGA, I do believe it calls for conversations and meetings and really examining where they are so that they can be prepared for these changes because they’re just right around the corner. There’s lots of dialogue about minimum wage and increases to pay for the lowest paid workers in our society.

Susan Harrell (00:00):
Susan Harrell: Now we’re working into work incentives that apply to Substantial Gainful Activity and really starting to dig into what is countable income for Title II benefits, right? So this is when, because we’re measuring Substantial Gainful Activity only at application, right? To determine if I’ve met the definition of disability. And then again, once I hit that 36 months of that Extended Period of Eligibility, not the Trial Work Period, but the 36 months we’re going to start looking at Substantial Gainful Activity. And therefore we’re going to start being able to apply additional work incentives, to reduce the amount of countable income that would be compared to the Substantial Gainful Activity amount. So we’ll be digging into that now.

Susan Harrell (00:54):
So, what is countable income for Title II? And this is really about what you are considering when you’re comparing countable income to Substantial Gainful Activity. So I just charted out the calculation here and some considerations to to work on when you’re thinking about what’s countable income. So we start with gross earned income and you notice we’re talking earned income. We’re not talking on earned income. Unearned income is not considered here. So in this situation, it’s unlike a Supplemental Security Income or SSI that needs based program. We talked about previously honor, didn’t come doesn’t matter. So I could win the lotto or somebody can give me a million dollars. I could inherit a million dollars. And because it’s not an indicator of my functional ability to work, my ability to work at or above Substantial Gainful Activity, unearned income isn’t considered. So all of Title II is really about your ability to function in a workplace. And that’s what measures whether you’re entitled to a benefit or not. So we start with gross earned income.

Susan Harrell (02:11):
Oops, and then we move into, does the person on that paycheck have sick, vacation, and or holiday pay? And that is reduced from gross earned income. When we’re thinking about earnings towards SGA. Scott: What do you mean by that, that it’s reduced? Susan: So if I let’s say take a week long vacation in the middle of the month, right? So that’s not part of my earnings picture during that month when it comes to SGA, because I’m off, I’m not working. Right. So we’re not going to count what my earnings were during that vacation or sick period or during the holiday. None of those things count towards my work efforts during that month because Hey, I wasn’t working. I was in The Bahamas, you know, with drinking umbrella drinks and soaking up sun. So that’s not going to count when it comes to Substantial Gainful Activity. Does that make sense? Scott: It does makes sense. Susan: Yeah. And the, the umbrella drinks and stuff like that are sounding good during the rainy weather as well. so this is a piece that people miss often and Social Security misses often because you have to really dig into the pay stuff to see what it is that it is part of the gross earnings. Right. So it’s important to get detail.

Scott Leonard (03:28):
Scott Leonard: Yeah. And when I’m working with people, and I know we’re going to talk a few slides about how people should, should manage all their documents and, and records and keep track of that information. But I do encourage people to keep track of sick time, vacation time and the, and the holidays, right? Because sometimes Social Security doesn’t catch that information.

Susan Harrell (03:47):
Susan: Often They don’t catch it. Yeah. Right. They just look the gross wage amount, and then some other factors, but this piece gets missed very frequently. And then we also can reduce, what’s considered as countable earnings by something called subsidy, as well as special conditions. Now we’ve lumped these two things together that these are the support system that gets in a workplace like extra supervision from, let’s say that a coworker or a supervisor, or maybe an owner of a business even spent extra time above and beyond what they would spend with someone else with me as the individual worker. Well, that would be considered to be a subsidy. In other words, I’m getting extra assistance in that workplace in order to be able to make the money I’m making and we can reduce from the gross earned income, those kinds of supports in the workplace when we’re looking at my level of functioning, my countable earnings.

Susan Harrell (04:51):
So there’s supervision, job coaching or lower productivity that maybe that the person works more meticulously and slower at a particular task than compared to a coworker that would be part of the subsidy equation might have fewer duties. I might need to take extra breaks during the Workday, or it could be that I take special transportation to work. And that means that sometimes I’m a half hour late in arriving at work or that maybe my Dial-a-Ride bus shows up a half hour early before the end of the Workday. And that isn’t reduced from my earnings when it comes to how much I’m paid in that workplace. But it should be reduced from my actual countable earnings when it comes to what Social Security is comparing to that Substantial Gainful Activity number.

Scott Leonard (05:43):
Scott: I see, so they’re gathering this information, say about a person’s productivity to understand, to get a better sense of their ability to perform Substantial Gainful Activity.

Susan Harrell (05:53):
Susan: Right, it’s about what they perform, right? Yeah, and it’s interesting because this gets touchy. Sometimes people are thinking that if you collect this information from an employer, that it could put the person’s job at risk. Right. and the point that I make to individuals is that a person’s value in a workplace. Isn’t just about how fast they work, right? It’s about other things they bring to the workplace. It could be good work ethic. It could be that they are very meticulous and very precise. And even though they work more slowly as something that they’re actually far more accurate than the coworker and Social Security, isn’t looking at that piece, they’re strictly looking at how fast is the worker working? How much do they produce? Not so much the value of what they bring to the workplace, right? The value in terms of maybe some of the things that lead the workplace, just to be better overall as a result of their efforts.

Susan Harrell (06:54):
And that’s what I promote when I’m talking with employers or with individuals about digging into this information and trying to really figure out, as far as Social Security is concerned, do I need extra supervision? Do I work more slowly? Do I need to leave early sometimes because of a transportation issue and, and it doesn’t impact how much I paid, but it certainly impacts in Social Security size, how much I earn, Scott: Right. Susan: But it is a delicate situation, I think to be able to explain that and effectively navigate those conversations that need to be had about this. And then finally gross earned income is going to be reduced by IRWE’s (Impairment Related Work Expenses). And this came up as a work incentive in our prior presentation about SSI. It is an allowable deduction, even for Title II benefits, like Social Security Disability Insurance, and Childhood Disability Benefits. And so being able to try to figure out if the individual has expenses that relate to their impairment and relate to the workplace and to submit those to Social Security may substantially reduce the amount that is countable as earned income towards SGA. And we’re going to be talking about that more in just a little bit here.

Susan Harrell (08:21):
The other thing is, and this is something we’re not going to spend a lot of time working on, but Social Security can average some months in which a person is making SGA versus other months when They’re not. They could average across months and that’s a little bit complicated. It takes a benefits planner and Social Security to navigate those things. The other thing is, is that sometimes people work above SGA for just a really brief period of time. It might be three months that they do that and then their condition worsens, and they’re not able to work above SGA. Now, sometimes Social Security waive the effort that somebody has made that would indicate they’ve worked over SGA if it’s six months or less, and even better if it’s three months or less, because it’s a much simpler process. So if it’s an odd thing in comparison to their overall work efforts, sometimes SGA can…That they worked over SGA during a few months could be waived by Social Security as counting. Yeah.

Scott Leonard (09:22):
Scott: And, and that those are decisions that Social Security makes the averaging or having this unsuccessful work attempt. Social Security makes the final call on it that. Is that correct?

Susan Harrell (09:31):
Susan: They do. And, you know, mostly we make mention of it here because you really do have to take a look at the situation. And sometimes the benefits planner can help with that. But these are things that are the things that come up once in awhile, but, but they’re, they’re facts. This is part of what can happen for someone. And we felt like we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it at least briefly.

Scott Leonard (09:52): Right.

Susan Harrell (00:00):
So Impairment Related Work Expenses. Now this is going to look very similar to what we talked about with SSI, because indeed the definition of an Impairment Related Work Expense remains the same, whether I’m on SSI or if I’m on a Title II benefit like SSDI Impairment Related Work Expenses are those expenses that individual pays for out of pocket. So it’s an incurred expense. It doesn’t get reimbursed from some other source and we can tie it to the individual’s impairment as well as their need to work. Right? So it supports them in work, given their impairment. And the other couple of things are that it has to be reasonable, right? So if I pay for a limo ride to work, that’s probably not going to be in PR approved as an Impairment Related Work Expense. If there is a more reasonable, lower cost option available to the individual.

Scott Leonard (00:59):
What if someone, say, needed a uniform for work, would that qualify as an Impairment Related Work Expense?

Susan Harrell (01:03):
No, here’s the thing is that I couldn’t relate it to impairment if everyone needed that uniform for work. Now, let’s say that the uniform needed to be modified though, because the person had issues with, let’s say motor skills, right? Being able to fasten the fasteners or being able to utilize a giving some, given something about their impairment. And we needed to have someone go in and tailor it, especially for that individual that would make it related to work and related to their impairment because it’s very different than what another individual in that workplace would utilize in their uniform. So if it’s typical in the workplace, then no, you can’t really tie it to the impairment. But if it’s something that has become specialized because the individual has an impairment, it certainly would be an Impairment Related Work Expense in that situation.

Susan Harrell (02:02):
And really, you know, you get better at this as you go along cause there are a lot of situations that come your way where you take a look at it and it just tell people to think about it being something that is, you know, kind of tying a bow that you need, the both loops you need, that it’s related to work and you need that it’s related to the impairment and in order for it to actually work. And here’s the thing is that when an Impairment Related Work Expense is approved, it can be deducted from that gross wage amount when we’re comparing the countable earnings to Substantial Gainful Activity. So it’s a really useful tool. I’ve seen people use Impairment Related Work Expenses to pay for their own job coaching in a workplace it’s really effective. I’ve also seen them use it for specialized therapies that enhance their ability to do the work in the workplace.

Susan Harrell (02:55):
Or even at times, especially equipment like an individual has a clerical job where a folding is a very important factor in providing information packets. It may be that the individual buys something that allows them to fold things effectively and efficiently, and they utilize that in their workplace in order to enhance their performance and accuracy. And because we can show that if they need it given their impairment, it works well as an Impairment Related Work Expense. So you can be quite creative with these and they are not time limited, right? I’m going to go over this example. And then Scott is going to sketch it out further using our previous example. So let’s say that Jared, who is not blind is working and he’s earning money, so much money that his gross wages appear to be over SGA. Now, Jared also is paying $175 out of pocket for medications and counseling services because the medications and counseling services are related to Jared’s disabling condition, and they are also essential to Jared’s work, Social Security has approved those expenses as Impairment Related Work Expenses or IRWE’s. So looking at this calculation, what we do is start with this gross wages for the month. And then we subtract this $175 approved IRWE payment. And as you can see, what results is earnings that are now below Substantial Gainful Activity. And I mean countable earnings versus that gross wage amount. So this means that if he was in an Extended Period of Eligibility or beyond it into his Post Extended Period of Eligibility, his Title II benefit check would continue because the earnings, that Social Security considers for SGA purposes, are now below SGA.

Scott Leonard (05:01):
Now let’s look at IRWE’s using the Extended Period of Eligibility example that we talked about earlier in the training. We’re just going to focus on the third year, because that was the year when this person earned over SGA. We can see that February, March and April was the Grace Period and the remaining months in red or when she performed SGA. And it is in these months in red when she would not have received the Title II benefit check. Now let’s say that she is paying $175 out of pocket for therapies, and they’ve been approved as Impairment Related Work Expenses. This means that the IRWE amount is subtracted monthly from her gross wages to reveal her countable earnings for the month.

And if you look at the revised earnings in the year, with an IRWE of $175, you can see that her countable earnings are over SGA. This means that she still hasn’t used her one-time Grace Period. And she would have kept her Title II check for every month in the year. And while this example is showing the Extended Period of Eligibility, it’s important to know that the IRWE work incentive can also be utilized in the Post Extended Period of Eligibility.

Susan Harrell (06:19):
You know, the interesting thing about this is that it is not uncommon for people to be unaware, that they could claim an Impairment Related Work Expense, where you come upon a situation where someone is just working and reporting, but they’re not including the IRWE information, even though they may be paying out of pocket for expenses, which would qualify. And it’s just because they’re unaware, they don’t know that that’s something they can utilize. And the thing is Social Security wouldn’t typically know about it either. They don’t know that person’s situation what’s happening in their workplace, what the person needs to be able to work. So who does know it, where do you find this information to support the individual?

Scott Leonard (07:06):
Yeah, that’s a good question. Honestly, it shows the importance of people having access to easy, to understand information about their benefits and the importance of meeting with a benefits planner. When I do benefits planning, I always ask the customer questions to determine if they may be paying for something that could qualify as an IRWE, or is there something that they could pay for that would qualify as an IRWE, you know, sometimes people may need an item or a service to help them be successful on the job and it’s related to their disability, but they’ve chosen not to pay for it, maybe because it’s, it just feels too expensive. They may not know though that if they paid for that item or service and it qualified as an IRWE, it could bring their countable earnings below SGA and allow them to be eligible to receive their entire Title II benefit check.

Susan Harrell (07:58):
You know, I often hear people say that Social Security doesn’t want them to work, but this example of an Impairment Related Work Expense and the ability for people to be able to access this as a way to really support them in work is also an example of how Social Security actually encourages work. And I think the most essential thing is these work incentives are so complicated that individuals need their family, their service providers, to be able to share information with them that they might not come upon otherwise. And it really is my hope that these trainings that we’re doing will be something that families and individuals watch that employment providers watch that case resource managers and counselors watch in order to support people. And then we do have a growing site that is available to folks to be able to utilize, to access information and access current numbers for Social Security and work incentives. And it’s at So I’d really encourage folks to go into that individuals and Family section frequently to gather updates and to see what new things we’re putting up there to better describe and teach about these work incentives and about just basic benefits. And right now, I think more than ever with all of the discussion around minimum wage increases and other issues, it’s super important for people to stay really up to date about what’s going on.

Susan Harrell (00:00):
So now we’re going to talk about Subsidy and Special Conditions. We talked about that in that chart where I started with the gross wages and started to talk about what could be deducted when we’re thinking about Substantial Gainful Activity and countable earnings. So when we think about subsidy as special conditions, this is where we’re starting to focus in on the extra support that somebody is receiving on the job or the lower productivity that they may have in the workplace. It could be that they’re actually working less duties too, because that’s another potential area where you can be looking at subsidy. Let’s say that there are some duties that other workers that, that carry the same title in the workplace as I do but, they are performing, and I am not because maybe it’s answering multi line phones, right? That I do a lot of reception work, but I don’t answer the multi line phones.

Susan Harrell (00:56):
So that might equate to a substantial part of my job, that I am not performing, where other workers are expected to be bouncing back and forth. So those are things that are really important to report to Social Security in terms of the work situation where jobs have been customized. So typical in supported employment that we do that. And then if the person is taking frequent breaks, or they’re arriving late or leaving early, or they have appointments or something like that, that is interrupting the workflow. Those are some things to consider. And I want to note the extra support received on the job could be provided by the employer, but it also could be provided by a job coach. So making sure that you gather those details is important. And ultimately there is Social Security puts a value on all of these things to subsidy and the special conditions they, they value them and give them a dollar amount basically, right? And then they would reduce whatever that amount is of the Subsidy and Special Conditions from the gross wages before they arrived at countable income to compare to SGA. And I also wanted to, to note that there is a similar version that applies to self-employment situations and we’re not, this presentation is not about self-employment right, but it’s important to know that there are similar things that can apply in self-employment and reduce the countable earnings, right?

Scott Leonard (02:32):
That’s right.

Susan Harrell (02:33):
Now, we’re going back to Jared, as you can see, he is working and his gross wages are above SGA. We have done an analysis of his work performance and decided that Jared is assisting 25%, fewer customers than other co-workers. Now that’s our estimate based on observations in the workplace and job coaches will often make these observations where they take part in figuring out how to measure the difference between one worker and the person they support to come up with an estimate of the person’s productivity. That estimate could also come up from a coworker or from a supervisor. So with Jared, we start with this gross wages and then we consider the subsidy. We estimate that he is assisting 25% fewer customers. And this means that he has 25% of his gross wages that would be considered a subsidy. So we take that 25% and subtract it from that amount of his gross wages to determine his countable earnings. These are the earnings that reflect his productivity or his level of functioning in the workplace. And Social Security will consider this when determining, if he’s working over SGA, after the subsidy is considered, you can see that Jared’s countable earnings are below SGA. And so this means his benefit check continues.

Scott Leonard (04:57):
So Susan, let me make sure I, I have this correct. So the person’s wages aren’t actually reduced and Social Security isn’t taking away any money. Social security is only doing this calculation to determine the amount of earnings that accurately reflect the person’s work performance. Is that right?

Susan Harrell (05:17):
Right. It’s, it’s nothing that the individual is paying for. This is different than when we were talking about the Impairment Related Work Expense, where it has to be an out of pocket expense. This subsidy is a fundamental piece of measuring whether the person continues to meet Social Security’s definition of disability. So where is their level of functioning? What are their true earnings in the workplace? Now I’ve had people say to me that they think this money is laundered, or it’s something nefarious where we’re trying to figure out what earnings are countable, and we apply subsidies or special conditions. And we do need to continue to stress that Substantial Gainful Activity while it is assigned as a dollar amount is not really about the money itself, truly is about the level of functioning that a person has or their capabilities in the workplace. And Social Security just happens to use earnings as a way to try to figure that out. There’s nothing wrong with being able to look at this information. In fact, it’s really important because if that person still does meet that definition of disability, they are working below SGA. They have a right to their benefits. They have met Social Security standards. And for this reason it’s important for us to make sure that Social Security has all the information they need in order to fully evaluate the work situation.

Scott Leonard (06:57):
You know, Susan, I’ve seen instances where the Social Security sends a letter to the employer asking for this type of productivity information. And at the beginning of the letter, it States that this is a request to determine a person’s productivity for their purposes. And it’s not reflection of the value that the person brings to the employer because the value a person brings to the workplaces is more than just productivity. It can be that the person has a great attitude or is consistently hardworking or acts as a team player. You know, Social Security only wants help measuring productivity and the supports that person may need for those SGA purposes. But still, I know that employers can be hesitant to document or sign anything that States a person’s productivity is less than 100%. There’s sometimes needs to be a little education and support offered to the employer with these subsidy letters and a job coach, I think can provide that support and help them to identify a person’s productivity and what the subsidy percentage might be.

Susan Harrell (08:07):
Right. I mean, a job coach really can engage with them. They have that relationship with the employer and they can at the same time reinforce the individual’s value in the workplace as well. And here’s the thing is that sometimes an individual or their family are nervous about collecting this information for Social Security. And I think we have to get away from thinking that productivity is truly the only thing that somebody brings into a workplace. I have heard employers over and over again, talk about how much their workplace was improved by including a person with a disability in that workplace. It’s not just about productivity. And, you know, the fact is these letters are going to happen. Whether the individual wants the employer to get that letter from Social Security or not, doesn’t really matter. So it makes sense to prepare the employer, the individual and their family. If they’re in the picture to let them know that this is a piece of that process, that’s going to happen as a person begins working near or above Substantial Gainful Activity. So it’s better to be prepared.

Scott Leonard (09:29):
Let’s now use the example that we had used earlier. You’re probably pretty familiar with this calendar now. And you can see that the third year of the Extended Period of Eligibility, SGA was performed in February. That started a three month grace period. And then all of the other months and read, reflect when this person performed SGA, let’s say that as subsidy existed during this third year, and it’s just that Social Security wasn’t made aware of it. So we bring it to Social Security’s attention that this person has a 25% subsidy. They accept it and they backdate it. So now Social Security is going to reduce this person’s gross wages by 25%, just for the purpose of determining her countable earnings. As you can see, the difference here is actually pretty dramatic. Her accountable earnings go well below SGA. What that 25% subsidy she is in fact below SGA throughout the year. So she still has not used her grace period. And she still has maintained her SSDI check each month throughout the entire year. Now the Extended Period of Eligibility still ends after 36 months, no subsidy, or we can prevent that from happening, but she can continue to use her subsidy in the post Extended Period of Eligibility, as long as it continues to be valid.

Susan Harrell (10:58):
So this raises a question we’re applying this now during year one, year two and year three of the Extended Period of Eligibility. And then you also noted during the post Extended Period of Eligibility, it can also be applied. But what about the Trial Work Period? What does the subsidy or we do during the Trial Work Period?

Scott Leonard (11:23):
Actually, those were going to send us do nothing during the Trial Work Period. And the reason is because Social Security is not looking at SGA. When a person is in their Trial Work Period, the person can make as much money as they want during that period without risk of losing their benefits. So there was no reason to consider these work incentives during that time.

Susan Harrell (11:45):
It’s kind of like that room you were talking about where the benefits continue to rain down on the person, regardless of what they’re making. That question does come up a lot of the time, doesn’t it? I think it’s because people want to hold back. They would like to just stay in the Trial Work Period. Can we just do that instead of having to worry about this SGA thing? But the gross wages are considered during the Trial Work Period. And once you move beyond that, it is countable earnings that are considered in the Extended Period of Eligibility and beyond. It’s just the way things are.

Scott Leonard (00:00):
So reporting earnings for SSDI, and also Childhood Disability Benefits…they’re both Title II benefits. So a person should report new work activity to Social Security by the 10th of the following month. Okay. And they can do that by calling the one 800 number that’s +1 800-772-1213, and they can request a work report and they can also bring pay stubs into their local office. Okay. So that’s the way that they can report say when they start a new job or they see a significant change in their wages, those are ways that they can report their wages to Social Security. Now, if a person is going to be using up their Trial Work Period, or they’re close to the SGA, Social Security is going to do, what’s called a Work Activity Review. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in the next slide, but we’re talking about reporting, reporting earnings for Social Security and what happens with Social Security,

Scott Leonard (00:56):
And you’ve, I’m sure you’ve probably experienced this with, when you talk to families, Social Security will tell them don’t bother reporting income. We’ll contact you, right? And that’s actually startling to people who may have been on SSI and they report every month to then going over to SSDI, and now they’re being told that they don’t have to report, right. What happens is Social Security will pick times when they reach out to the individual and want to gather information about that. Person’s earnings to make a decision about where they’re at in terms of their Trial Work Period or the Extended Period of Eligibility. Right? But for people, all they hear is the message don’t report income. And so they don’t, unfortunately they don’t know the rules at the same time. So a person could be making quite a bit of money and not reporting it.

Scott Leonard (01:49):
That could go on for years. Maybe they go through the Trial Work Period. Maybe they actually go through the Extended Period of Eligibility and they should not be receiving benefit checks, but they weren’t reporting. They weren’t letting Social Security know. And Social Security says taking a long time to check back in with them, right. That creates not a very good situation for that individual. It can create an overpayment. And so we always tell people, or at least I do, I’m assuming you do this well, report every month, if you can. Even when Social Security says do not report income, it makes sense to report income every single month.

Susan Harrell (02:24):
I feel that way because it’s hard enough to manage everything in your life. And I really can imagine that having benefits be a part of your life and all of the weight of those responsibilities and tracking and everything else is so overwhelming. You’re likely to set it aside and forget to look at it. You just have to get in the habit of reporting anyway. Even if you’re told not to report, you’re the one that’s responsible if there’s an overpayment. So it just makes good sense that you protect yourself and you’d report.

Scott Leonard (02:56):
And that’s a good reason why people should manage their benefits as we have with the last bullet on this slide. People should understand the rules and manage their own, right?

Susan Harrell (03:04):

That’s important.

Whenever possible.

Scott Leonard (03:07):
Whenever possible. Yeah.

Scott Leonard (00:00):
The Work Activity Review Process. You mentioned that a little bit earlier, Social Security sends out something called a Work Activity Report. It’s it’s quite a long document. And at the top of it, they’ll put a date, they’ll say, “Hey, we want information going back to this date”. It might be six months ago. It could be two years ago. And what they want are, is information about the person’s monthly earnings. They want to know about employer history with some detailed information about that employer. And this is also where they gather information about other, any impairment related work expenses. And is there a subsidy and Social Security if they get, if they find out that the person may have a subsidy, that’s when they may reach out to the employer to get more information, but they don’t always do that, do they?

Susan Harrell (00:45):
No, sometimes they suspect that there could be, and that’s really the biggest deal is maybe because of the person’s work history, they could tell that they had been in supported employment or in a sheltered workshop or some situation that would indicate there might be a subsidy. And that triggers that decision to send that it’s really hard to predict.

Scott Leonard (01:05):
Right. Yeah.

Scott Leonard (01:07):
And so the person fills out all this information, they submit it to Social Security and then Social Security reviews it and they take the earnings and subsidies into consideration. And then they send a followup letter that basically details their findings. They may say you’ve used up eight of your Trial Work Period months, or this is, you know, these months you performed more than SGA, right?

Susan Harrell (01:30):

Scott Leonard (01:32):
And so these Work Activity Reports, they can happen at different times. There’s certain things that trigger them. A change in the person’s job or earnings, or if Social Security thinks that they’re at the end of the Trial Work Period, or they are at the end of the Trial Work Period, or they they suspect that the person may be getting close to SGA…that can trigger one of these Work Activity Reports.

Susan Harrell (01:54): Right.

Scott Leonard (00:00):
So, how can you help?

Susan Harrell (00:00):
So just briefly I think that it takes a village when it comes to benefits. And so I’m counting on people as they start to learn about these things, to begin, to assist people, to begin, to get the information out. And that means really to help people identify when there could be a situation where there’s Impairment Related Work Expenses or additional Subsidies or Special Conditions that are happening in the workplace. Often that’s a job coach could be a coworker. It could be a family member that observes that the person gets lots of support, or it could be the individual themselves who, like I said, I think it takes a village. And really thinking about the ways in which you in your role can assist with the employer, getting the information, as well as the individual to understand what’s being asked of them from SSA, because that can be confusing.

Susan Harrell (00:52):
I have looked at those letters and there are times that I just think, wow, could it be any more unclear, right. It’s hard for people to navigate. And so the more that you can assist by understanding the situation on why Social Security would be asking for something the better you’re able to assist the individual, as well as the employer. And you know, you may need to identify an employer point of contact because you want to make sure that anything that is being asked of the employer goes to the person that will be able to actually answer the questions. So that means don’t send it to a district office, send it to, you know, a department manager that’s working with the individuals, so that we’re clear that the person has a full view of what’s going on when they’re providing information as the employer to Social Security.

Susan (00:00):
And then finally, I want to just talk briefly about record keeping and I wanted to make sure that you knew about a way that would be relatively easy for people to track this information. And I really encourage people to keep a binder, like one of those college bound notebooks that they utilize to keep records. And it’s because it’s skinny, it’s cheap and all you need is that in a roll of tape and maybe a pen. And what you do is as you get a letter from an agency, whether it’s about your medical benefits or about your Social Security benefits, or about maybe your eligibility for other kinds of services that are in support of a disability that you tape those letters on a page and turn the page. And there’s a, maybe that you get a copy of a pay stub and you reported it to Social Security and you tape that on the next page and you write the date that you reported, and then you turn the page and the next page, maybe have a conversation with your employer or with Social Security.

Susan (00:59):
And you want to make note of something that is very important to consider when it comes to your benefits and maybe it’s vacation time or sick leave or something like that. You make a note, you, you write the day and you continue doing that throughout until that book is full. You put the date, you started it, the date you completed it, you put it on a shelf and open up the next one. And what that allows is the very next time Social Security asks you for information and they go back two years. All you have to do is go right to that particular notebook and go through the information. Yep.

Scott (01:33):
It’s so true. I was just working with a family and they have actually kept all the documentation, which is great, but they put it in boxes. And so they brought down three boxes and we’re trying to find one letter from Social Security over the last five years. Not so easy. A lot of panic when you get a letter from Social Security saying, “Hey, we need this information going back, say two years ago. And we want this by a certain timeframe”, Right? So having it organized, like this is really helpful for folks.

Susan (02:01):
It also helps you sometimes in waiving an overpayment for benefits. If information is being conveyed to you in such a way that it sounded like you were being given a piece of information that caused the problem, right, then you have documentation of that. And it’s credible. If you have this series of notebooks with all of this information conversations with people, you know, at State or Federal agencies with the date and the person’s name identified and all of the kind of outline of the conversation that protects you. And, and it’s credible because it’s obvious that you’ve done that over and over again, you’ve been tracking, right. And you have your pay stubs, you can prove you report. And so those things really do assist individuals.

Scott (02:46):
Yeah. Yeah. Great. Thank you everyone.

Susan (02:48):
Thanks. Have a good day.

Speaker 3 (02:50):
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Introductions and Overview of Title II Benefits

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Definition of Disability and Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

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Programs and Qualifying Factors

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Benefit Amounts and Other Income

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Title II and Earnings

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Trial Work Period (TWP)

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Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

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Being Aware of Minimum Wage Increases

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SGA, Work Incentives, and Countable Income

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Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE)

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Subsidy and Special Conditions

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Reporting Earned Income

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Work Activity Review Process

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Helping Others With This Information

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Record Keeping and Close

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