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Posts Tagged ‘SSI’

  1. Social Security Benefits: An Opportunity to Start Anew

    May 30, 2023 by lowens

    By Justin Taylor

    Justin Taylor, Spring 2023 CDC Fellow, in the UMass Law Library

    The fear of returning to work is very prevalent for those that collect social security disability benefits. People receiving these benefits often rely heavily on them for their daily care and necessities; the risk of losing that income causes many to stop pursuing the goal of returning to work. However, this fear can be alleviated through the use of certain Social Security Programs that encourage those with a disability to return to work.  

    Social Security has two different disability programs. First is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is the main program under which people receive payments. The second is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which gives additional payment to individuals with limited income and resources. Both programs offer a unique incentive for those that are recipients of them. These incentives are to encourage people to return to work with peace of mind knowing they will still be covered. Furthermore, if used correctly, they can greatly benefit a person looking to return to work or start their own organization. 

    The first incentive is the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) offered under SSI. It can be used to receive additional training and resources necessary to return to work or even provide the requisite knowledge and equipment to start a business. The program is a strong incentive for recipients of SSI to return to work because it allows them to obtain equipment and knowledge that they might otherwise have to pay for out-of-pocket. Without this program, recipients who wish to return to work but lack the skills might not see a viable way of returning to work. Going to work for an able-bodied individual might seem mundane, but for a disabled person gathering the requisite equipment to do so can be rather costly and difficult. Furthermore, a disability might limit the recipient’s career choices and cause them to lose valuable knowledge that they have already gained, thus forcing them to start over in a new career field where learning can also come at a cost. This program alleviates these issues and provides a way for disabled persons to gather everything that is necessary to start working again. 

    The second incentive is the Trial Work Period. This is an incentive program offered under SSDI that allows a recipient to take a salary even though they might not have the capacity to work full-time in the beginning. The recipient is allowed nine trial months in which they can work for more than $1,050 or over 80 hours and has no impact on their benefits. The recipient has a sixty-month period to use their nine trial months before they start seeing an effect on their benefits. Once the recipient uses their nine trial months, they then enter the next phase of the program. This phase consists of a three-year period in which the recipient will still receive their social security benefits in any month that they do not earn “substantial” [Footnote 1] income. This program is helpful because returning to work full-time can be difficult for a disabled person, and the Trial Work Period allows recipients to freely test their ability to work again without fear of losing their benefits. 

    The strength of these programs can really be seen for a person receiving both SSDI and SSI because each offers a program that is suited for different stages of returning to work. PASS allows an individual to gain the foundational skills necessary to return to work and can help them gain knowledge without the price of paying for it. Then, once the recipient feels confident in their skills and knowledge, the Trial Work Period allows them to start returning to work part-time or full-time with the knowledge that their benefits will still cover them should their disability make them unable to work again. An attorney understanding these programs and how they can help to achieve a client’s vision of starting an organization or returning to work can help alleviate the fear the client may have and also offer additional support in ways that are not always expected.

    Footnote 1. Substantial earnings are anything over $1,470 a month.

  2. Disability Benefits: Pursuing Independence and Maintaining Financial Security

    May 30, 2023 by lowens

    by Alexandra Rampy

    Allie Rampy, Spring 2023 CDC Fellow, in the UMass Law Library

    Individuals who receive disability benefits are often hesitant to pursue employment opportunities for various reasons. First, many people collecting disability benefits have health conditions or restrictions that limit their ability to work, resulting in their reliance on the financial assistance these benefits provide. Additionally, many fear that earning an income will reduce their benefits, exacerbating their financial situation. Furthermore, individuals with disabilities generally face more significant barriers to employment, such as discrimination, lack of accommodations in the workplace, and limited job opportunities. Overall, the lack of readily accessible resources designed to assist people with disabilities in finding or creating employment opportunities only adds to their reluctance to pursue such opportunities. Attorneys, especially those who work with nonprofit organizations, could benefit greatly from having a general understanding of how the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulates disability benefits when a beneficiary either works for or starts a nonprofit organization.

    The SSA distributes disability payments through two programs – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – the largest Federal programs assisting individuals with disabilities. SSDI pays benefits to workers with a qualifying disability who are “insured,” meaning they have worked recently and long enough and paid Social Security taxes on their earnings. On the other hand, SSI distributes benefits to those with a qualifying disability who have limited resources and income. Eligibility for these programs is evaluated by state Disability Determination Services (DDS), a division of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission contracted and fully funded by the SSA. Additionally, Massachusetts has a disability benefits program called the State Supplemental Program (SSP), which also distributes monthly payments to eligible individuals. Whether a disabled Massachusetts resident qualifies for SSP payments is determined by SSI eligibility; even if a person is above the income requirement for SSI, they may be eligible for partial benefit payments from the state. Navigating the different programs, eligibility requirements, and complex relationships between state and federal regulatory agencies administering these benefits is no simple feat. For many individuals who rely on their disability benefits, financial security is a particularly critical factor when considering employment opportunities. 

    Could creating a nonprofit corporation in Massachusetts impact an individual’s disability benefits? When a disability beneficiary creates a nonprofit corporation, their SSI benefits could be affected mainly through earnings considered Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) by the SSA. The impact on SSDI benefits depends primarily on the nature and extent of their involvement with the nonprofit corporation. 

    The SGA Earnings Guide provides that if a beneficiary’s countable earnings are over a certain amount from work or self-employment, their social security disability benefits may be reduced or stopped. This amount changes yearly, but for 2023, the monthly earnings limit is $1,470 for non-blind disabled individuals. Therefore, if a person receiving disability payments creates a nonprofit and earns an income, this income will likely count towards the earnings limit. If the amount of income from their work exceeds the SGA limit, then they are no longer eligible to receive disability benefits. However, there are some exceptions. If there is evidence that an individual receiving SSI payments is engaging in SGA (*not covered by an exception or regulated incentive program, see “Social Security Benefits: An Opportunity to Start Anew”) or that they are able to control when or how much they are paid, the SSA will evaluate the work activity under the test of comparability and the test of worth work. Under the test of comparability, if the work being performed is essentially the same in quality and quantity as that of an unimpaired individual as their means of livelihood given the circumstances, regardless of the amount of earnings of the impaired person, it must be considered SGA. If the work would not be regarded as substantial or gainful under the comparability test, it may still be considered SGA if the work performed is clearly worth more than the SGA amount per the pay scales of the community. Nevertheless, the SSA’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS) states that after reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding the individual’s work history, if there is “any reasonable doubt as to whether an individual engaged in SGA under the tests of comparability or worth work, the adjudicator should generally conclude the individual did not engage in SGA.” 

    In general, maintaining SSDI benefits is based on an individual’s inability to work due to their medical condition. If creating a nonprofit provides an employment opportunity for the beneficiary that they are able to perform, the SSA may determine that they are no longer eligible for SSDI. Furthermore, if the beneficiary receives compensation for their work, this income may also impact their eligibility for SSDI benefits. In practical application, a beneficiary may need to limit their involvement in forming a nonprofit corporation, so the SSA does not consider them to have employment opportunities or make an income. For example, if the beneficiary’s involvement is minimal, such as serving on the board of directors but not actively participating in meetings or decision-making, their benefits will certainly not be impacted. However, if the beneficiary is actively involved in the operations of the nonprofit by serving on the board of directors, working as an employee of the nonprofit, or receiving compensation for services provided, their benefits may be affected. 

    Navigating the provisions and regulations regarding disability benefits can be complex. Therefore, it is crucial for attorneys and disability beneficiaries alike to understand the impact creating a nonprofit corporation may have on social security disability benefits. Similarly, it is essential for attorneys assisting beneficiaries seeking to create nonprofit corporations to understand the client’s specific circumstances. In conclusion, with prudent planning, a beneficiary can create a nonprofit that helps the community and their own financial situation while preserving their eligibility for indispensable social security disability benefits. Ultimately by being aware of applicable regulatory policies, various exceptions, and incentive programs offered by the SSA, a beneficiary can achieve independence and give back to their community while maintaining financial security.


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