2 women working togetherBenefits counseling is one of many free services and supports that are available through the Ticket to Work program. We talked with a certified Benefits Counselor to find out answers to common questions about what to expect from benefits counseling.

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Ask a Benefits Counselor

Sep 24, 2019

2 women working togetherAs we've discussed before, benefits counseling is one of many free services and supports that are available to individuals who receive Social Security disability benefits. To better understand why this service can be important, we caught up with Tammy Austin, a Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) with Aspire Indiana.

She answered our questions about benefits counseling, whether it's with a CWIC through a Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) project like Aspire Indiana or through a Ticket to Work program Employment Network (EN) or a State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency that has a certified Benefits Counselor on staff. The benefits counseling process may vary depending on your service provider. For example, your service provider may offer benefits counseling in person or virtually (by phone or email). Others may refer you to an outside source.

What to expect?

Working with a Benefits Counselor offers an individual in-depth guidance about their public benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare or Medicaid.

"We start with an intake form that asks basic questions: Are you working? Are you looking for work? How many hours are you working? What is your salary? Are you married or single?" Tammy explains. "We also ask about what other types of benefits they receive — whether that be Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), and housing."

A Benefits Counselor will also request an individual's BPQY, or Benefits Planning Query. A BPQY includes information about SSDI cash benefits, SSI cash payments, health insurance, any scheduled Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR), work history and more.

The intake form and the BPQY helps the Benefits Counselor create a Benefits Analysis Report that they then review with the individual. The review will include, for example, whether someone who receives SSDI has used any of the Trial Work Period months. This information can give someone an in-depth understanding of how working will affect their benefits, when those effects will happen and what Work Incentives or other supports are available to them.

Ticket to Work

Social Security's Ticket program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI/SSI) and want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

Is benefits counseling only for Social Security disability benefits?

No. "It's important for people to understand that we help with more than just Social Security disability benefits," Tammy says.

Whether it's housing assistance, food stamps or health care, a Benefits Counselor can help people understand their benefits and connect them with resources that can help. For some types of benefits, this may include referring someone to another program or resource in the state, such as a state health buy-in program.

Can Benefits Counselors help with wage reporting and overpayments?

"Yes!" Tammy says. "Wage reporting is something we discuss even when discussing that intake form because that's something people should know about right away." Tammy explains that they'll discuss responsibilities of wage reporting and how to report wages — whether it's by going into the local Social Security field office, online or through the app.

If someone is overpaid by Social Security, a Benefits Counselor may be able to help them with it, too. "We can work with them and look back over that timeframe," Tammy explains. "There have been instances where we've been able identify expenses that would qualify for an Impairment-Related Work Expense or subsidies and accommodations and get that overpayment wiped out or reduced."

Why is benefits counseling important?

"We want to break your situation down," Tammy says. "We work specifically to ask questions based on specific situations."

While individuals can find information in the Social Security Red Book or visit their local Social Security field office, a Benefits Counselor can offer guidance based on individual circumstances. For example, an individual who receives SSDI may know that Social Security determines eligibility for cash benefits based on substantial gainful activity (SGA, which is $1,220 per month for individuals who are not blind in 2019). "That $1,220 doesn't necessarily mean gross earnings. It's countable income," Tammy explains. "So, we can help them set up an Impairment-Related Work Expense, subsidies and other Work Incentives."

Having this type of support and individualized information can help individuals pursue their career goals with a better understanding and less worry about their benefits.

Connecting with a Benefits Counselor

To learn more about the Ticket program and connect with a service provider who offers benefits counseling, we encourage individuals to call the Ticket to Work Help Line, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY).

Representatives can answer questions and make referrals to service providers. In some cases, a representative can refer individuals to a WIPA project if they receive SSDI, SSI, SSDI-related Medicare or SSI-related Medicaid, and they:

  • Are working
  • Have a job offer pending
  • Are actively interviewing for jobs
  • Had an interview in the past 30 days
  • Have a job interview scheduled in the next 2 weeks
  • Are a veteran, or
  • Are age 14 – 25 (even if they are not actively pursuing work)

Individuals can also use the Find Help tool to search for ENs or State VR agencies who have certified Benefits Counselors on staff.

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