Benefits of Employment

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Joni Schmalzried

In support of October being Disability Employment Awareness Month, I originally wrote an article about the myths around employment, disability and benefits. When I was done, it seemed more like a fact sheet. A colleague encouraged me to write and share one of my many examples instead. Though some might find this information confusing (or even boring), I think it a much-needed conversation.

When I was a teacher, transition coordinator, and state-wide trainer, I often heard from parents and students that they couldnt work because they would lose their Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. On top of that, they worried about losing health benefits, often provided through Medicaid.

Some would see this is an excuse not to work. I saw it as sincere concern about how families might support the many needs an individual with a disability might have, and how benefits allow them to provide them. It is also a tribute to the misinformation that is rampant around individuals with disabilities entering the workforce.

Early on in my career, I learned to utilize those who knew much more than I did and connect them with families and individuals to help with the issues around going to work. In this story, a Benefits Information Network (BIN) counselor is key.

I worked with “Jennifer” and her family for several years. She was a great worker, had many positive job experiences in school, and (in my opinion) was ready to enter the workforce. Jen lived with her mom, who was a single parent with three children at home. Jens SSI benefits supported the family in meeting Jens needs, including the fact that mom could only work part time and take care of her children. After bringing in a BIN counselor and working with Vocational Rehabilitation Services, what we all learned was this (I upgraded the numbers to reflect 2020):

  • If Jen worked 20 hours a week, making $10 an hour, she could earn $800 per month
  • She currently receives $800 per month in SSI benefits, which is why someone might think, “Why work? Its a wash.”
  • Since Jen isnt involved in what Social Security calls substantial gainful activity (SGA), which means she makes more than $1260 per month, she technically can keep her income and still receive half her SSI payments.
  • Jen now has meaningful employment, earns her own income ($800 per month), and receives approximately $400 per month from her SSI making her total monthly income $1,200.

This is a very simplistic take on a very complicated system that looks different for everyone. I only scratched a tiny surface. However, whether you are looking at SSI benefits or SSDI benefits, an individuals combined income from work and benefits is always higher than benefits alone. It is so important that we educate ourselves, the individuals we serve, their families, and potential employers on how employment may, or may not, impact benefits.

Indiana is an employment first state we dont want a misconception to interfere with potential employment. We need to help everyone see that when gainful employment is an option, everyone benefits!