I had an interesting meeting last week with Sheila Zipf of the non-profit Bobby Dodd Institute in Atlanta. The Bobby Dodd Institute (BDI) is "committed to reducing the unemployment rate by helping people with disabilities and disadvantages overcome barriers to work." BDI works in partnership with governmental agencies and private enterprise to help train and place people with disabilities. BDI provides vocational training and job placement for many disabled adults who otherwise would not be able to enter the workforce.
Sheila and I discussed some mutually compatible territory between us through the Social Security Trial Work Program. Helping to re-integrate individuals with disabilities into the larger community with employment as part of the process is a worthy goal. With rehabilitation and vocational training many individuals may overcome obstacles to employment. However, individuals who might be candidates for part-time or modified employment may be discouraged from attempting this type of employment for fear of losing Social Security benefits.
In recent years, Social Security has encouraged trial work periods by alleviating the perceived fear of forfeiting hard-won Social Security benefits. During a trial work period, a beneficiary receiving Social Security disability benefits may test his or her ability to work and still be considered disabled. SSA allows a beneficiary to work for at least 9 months in a rolling 60 month period. Earnings at or above $720 in a month will constitute a work period. After a trial work period, you have 36 months in which you can work and still receive benefits for any month that earnings are not "substantial" ($1010/month or $1690/month if you are blind). If your benefits become "substantial" then you will no longer receive Social Security payments. However, you have five years during which you may request for benefits to be reinstated if you become unable to work again because of your medical condition. You will not have to file a new application for benefits and your benefits will begin immediately.
Also, if your benefits stop because your earnings are substantial, you still qualify for Medicare Part A coverage for at least 93 months after the 9 month trial work period. After that, you can buy Medicare Part A and Part B coverage by paying the monthly premium.
For SSI recipients, Social Security will work with you to establish a Plan to Achieve Self Support. This program allows you to use money and resources toward a specific work goal. Such funds would not affect your SSI benefit. The Ticket to Work program allows SSI recipients to earn up to $15,000 (may vary by state) and still receive a reduced SSI benefit and remain eligible for health insurance.
Programs like BDI provide the training and corporate contacts that may enable individuals with disabilities to re-enter the workforce. BDI also works with employers on incentive programs and accommodations for hiring disabled employees. While working is not always an option for every disabled individual, programs like SSA's Trial Work Program and BDI do provide a helping hand.
You may want to contact an attorney to see if you qualify for the Trial Work Program. Our office provides a free consultation by calling 404 255 9838.