The problem with SSDI’s trial work program

July 28, 2015

When you’re on SSDI (social security disability insurance) the presumption is that your disability prevents you from working. Ok, I get that. But what if you want to return to work part time or full time? Ah, that’s and interesting process.20120809_220808

Everyone gets a different amount of money through SSDI. The formula is based on how much you paid into the system, and that in turn comes from the salary you earned and over how many months you earned it. You might be getting $900 per month or $1800 per month. If you’re on SSDI for more than 2 years then you’re eligible for Medicare, which is health insurance. You’re also more likely to be eligible for other benefits.

Now, what happens if you start doing some work? Well, at a certain point the SSA (Social Security Administration) decides that you’re able to support yourself. That point is a set number. It’s not a percentage of your benefit. Nope. It’s a set number: $1090 per month right now (this can change each year.) So if your benefit is $900 and you start earning $1100 then you lose SSDI and Medicare, but that might be ok with your extra income if you’re earning $1100 every month. You might only earn it occasionally, though (more on that in a bit.) But if your benefit is $1800 and you earn $1100, then you lose SSDI and Medicare and, unless you have unearned income from some source (like a spouse, alimony, or investments) then you’re probably screwed.

That’s how I feel now: screwed. I’m ready to do some small amounts of work, which is exciting in and of itself! I recently earned around $1100! This is very exciting! If it was all in 1 month, though, it would count towards my return to work trial period of 9 months total. Those total 9 months are spread out over 5 years, so I could work for 2 months per year, and still lose my benefits. That’s not good! Luckily for me, it was spread out over 3 months, at an average of under $400 per month. What a relief!

But wait, isn’t there something wrong with the system if I feel relieved to earn less money? Shouldn’t the goal be to get me back to work so that I don’t need benefits?

What if I make more than $1090 per month for 3 months this year? Then what if the same thing happens again next year? I’d stop working altogether so I wouldn’t risk going off benefits. I can’t afford to have 0 income, and I definitely can’t afford to lose my health insurance!

Instead, the system should encourage me to work part time with the hope that I would build up to more part time work or even full time work! The trial work period should only cover a short timeframe, like a certain number of months worked in a 1 or 2 year period. There should be a grace period for Medicare.

But with the current setup, I’m scared to attempt to go back to work. What if I try to work, lose my benefits, and then fail to continue working? Yes, there’s a grace period where I can get back on benefits, but it’s short. And I’m scared. It took me more than 2 years to get on SSDI in the first place. I can’t take a chance on losing it.

And that’s why the system doesn’t work.

Have you felt the same way about SSDI? How do you handle it? Do you hold back on the amount of work you do in order to stay on benefits?

A few questions for certain politicians

May 21, 2014

It’s tough when the national budget doesn’t balance. I get that. But what what are citizens supposed to do when they have no hope of balancing their personal budgets because they are too sick or disabled to work?

We pay into Social Security so that it will be there when we need it. Then we become disabled and need it, and too many of us are denied it. I’m not even going to talk about the fact that the payment is too small to even pay a modest rent in many parts of this country. I’m just talking about how hard it is to get this so-called “safety net” when we need it. And yet certain politicians still suggest that we need to cut back on the program. So here’s my question for them:

Without social security, or with reduced payments, how are we supposed to pay for basic things like rent, food, and health care?*

I’ve heard one common answer many times: your church will take care of you. Um, no. What if you’re not Christian? What if you’re not religious? What if you just moved to a new community and don’t have a church community yet? What if there’s no church or other religious establishment nearby?

Now, let’s suppose none of those issues apply in your care. Let’s say your church and its members want to help, but they don’t have enough money. Are they expected to pay all of your bills for the rest of your life (or until you turn 65 and standard Social Security supposedly starts?) Could they really afford to pay the housing, food, and medical bills for all of its members in need of that financial help? So here’s another question for those politicians:

Are the only people “worthy” of living in this country those who are able to work, those who marry people who can work, those who inherit large amounts of money, and those who win the lottery?

I greatly resent having to prove that I’m too sick to work. But what I resent even more is going through this process while healthy people on tv suggest that the government needs to cut back on these payments. I’m sure that seems like a perfectly reasonable approach for all of these well-paid people who assume they will be able to work for as long as they want and so others should too. But that’s the tricky thing about disabling conditions: most of them are not predictable years in advance. Just because someone is working now, doesn’t mean they will be able to work 10 years, or even 10 months, from now. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. And if they can’t? Will they change their mind about the policy? What if it doesn’t happen to them? What if it happens to a friend? Will they pay their friend’s bills, or will they say that it’s not their responsibility? Will they tell their friend to find a church to help out? Or will they realize how insensitive and callous it sounds to suggest that their friend shouldn’t have access to the government system they paid into that’s designed specifically to support people in this particular situation? This begs the question:

Should everyone be treated equally? Or do you suggest different treatment for already-wealthy individuals?

It’s easy to suggest that disabled people are lazy and choosing not to work. It’s always easy to use a stereotype to justify your own prejudice. It’s also easy to say that all Jews are cheap, all bisexuals are promiscuous, all black teenagers are in gangs, and all women are overly emotional. It’s easy, but that doesn’t make it true. These stereotypes might be true for some people, but they are not true for all people. Just as some people on SSDI are lazy and choosing not to work, but that is not true for everyone.

And that’s why, most of all, I resent being stereotyped as a justification for rich politicians looking to score political points and get even richer. That’s why, most of all, I have to ask:

How can you live with yourself?

*Yes, there is Medicare and Medicaid and The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare,) but those are not available to everyone and they do not cover all costs. I wish they did, but they don’t. I have great health insurance, one of the best plans available. Last month, in addition to my premium, I spent $600 on over-the-counter medications, copays, parking at medical offices, visits with my naturopath (who has been more helpful than the doctors who are covered by insurance,) and other things. Other months have included items such as orthodics that are necessary to me but are not covered by insurance. Of course, this does not include the so-called extras, like gas to get to appointments or paying for help with things I can’t do like cleaning and shoveling show.

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