By Kris Erickson
Many people with MS who have or who are considering applying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) worry that they will lose their benefits if they return to work, even part-time. The possibility of losing benefits is a scary prospect, especially if it took a long time to get approved for SSDI. However, with some knowledge and preparation, people with MS should be able to work and maintain their benefits.
Working While Applying
If you’re working and considering applying for SSDI, it’s essential to understand what Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is first.
Basically, SGA is the maximum amount someone can earn before being denied benefits. According to SGA rules, in 2012 you can make no more than $1,010 (or $1,690 for the legally blind) per month while applying for SSDI. If you are making more money than that, your application will automatically be denied.
Another important thing to know is that symptoms you list in your SSDI application as impediments to work should not be the same symptoms you’ve learned to accommodate successfully in your current job. For example, if someone submits an application listing gait and walking issues compounded by bladder incontinence, but uses a scooter to get around and self-catherization to handle incontinence on the job, then that will conflict with his or her SSDI application.
Call Your Local WIPA
If you are already receiving SSDI benefits and are considering returning to work, contact a Work Incentive Planning and Assistance program (WIPA) first. WIPAs are nonprofit organizations with staff trained in SSDI and work issues. They can help educate people who are receiving SSDI on how to return to the work force while maintaining benefits. Visit www.ssa.gov/work/WIPA.html and click the “Service Provider Directory” for a listing of WIPA programs by state. Or contact an MS Navigator® at 1-800-344-4867, who will refer you to our closest WIPA program.
Ticket to Work
Most recipients of SSDI also receive in the mail a “ticket” from the Ticket to Work program. The program, intended to remove the barriers between work and benefits, is completely voluntary and consists of employment networks made up of public and private organizations. These include the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, private employers, and individuals working together to help prepare beneficiaries to re-enter the workforce.
After receiving the ticket, the next step is to take it to an Employment Network, usually a vocational rehab and/or career services agency or organization. A directory of networks can be found at www.ssa.gov/work. The network will work with you on your specific employment goals. For more information on the Ticket to Work program, visit www.yourtickettowork.com or call 1-866-968-7842.
Trial Work Period
Once a person awarded SSDI returns to work, a Trial Work Period (TWP) begins automatically. TWPs allow people to test their ability to work and still be considered disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Any month in which a person’s work income comes out to more than $720 counts as a TWP month. TWPs last for nine months (which are not necessarily consecutive) in a rolling 60-month period of work. Visit www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/twp.html for more information about the TWP.
If you have been earning at or above the SGA amount set by the SSA, benefits will stop after the TWP ends. However, they can restart within 36 months if your income falls below the SGA or if you lose your job and continue to meet the criteria of disability. However, do not navigate these requirements alone — call an MS Navigator or contact our local WIPA if you suspect you are earning more than the SGA, or have other questions.
Finally, think about what you want to get out of your work experience before starting a job. Are you trying to go back to work full time and get off SSDI entirely? Or do you want to work part time to help supplement your income on a long-term basis? The answers to these questions will help you decide what your employment future can look like, and better prepare you for successfully combining work and SSDI benefits.
Kris Erickson is the health insurance manager for the Society.
By Kris Graham
What are job accommodations? They can be things like new equipment or changes to existing equipment. Another type of accommodation may be a change to your work routine, such as hours worked. There are two things to remember about accommodations:
- You must be able to perform the essential functions of your job. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not require employers to reduce essential job functions, but you can ask to change how you perform an essential job function. Usually employers decide which job functions are essential.
- Your employer does not have to provide you with your first choice in accommodations. The employer has to provide an accommodation that is reasonable and effective, if available — so be ready to discuss alternatives.
Does ADA apply to you? People can request reasonable accommodations under the ADA if:
- They work for an ADA-covered employer;
- They are “qualified” to do the job; AND
- They are a person with a disability as defined by the ADA.
ADA-covered employers include private employers with 15 or more employees, all state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions. If you’re not sure whether your employer is covered by the ADA, contact your regional ADA Center (look up your region at www.adata.org) or visit JAN (the Job Accommodation Network) at www.askjan.org. Both organizations are free and confidential resources. If your employer is not covered by the ADA, contact an MS Navigator® at 1-800-344-4867 for assistance in exploring other possible legislation that may protect you.
“Qualified” to do the job means that someone has the “skills, experience, education, or other requirements” of the position, and “can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.” (For more information, download the Disability Law Handbook — Employment and the ADA for free at www.swdbtac.org/html/publications/dlh/employment.html.) The ADA’s definition of a “person with a disability” now includes most people with MS, thanks to the passage of the ADA Amendments Act and updated Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations. Although people with MS do not necessarily have to disclose their diagnosis, they must provide enough information for the employer to understand that they are a person with a disability. For more about work-place disclosure and a helpful worksheet, visit www.nationalMSsociety.org/disclosure.
Before requesting accommodations, make sure you can answer all of the following questions:
- How is MS affecting your job, potential job, or application process?
- Why are you requesting accommodations?
- What information will you need to provide to your
- employer (or potential employer) to clarify the
- impairment affecting your work and the accommodation that will remedy the situation?
- What accommodations or changes to your work will be effective?
- When should you speak with your employer (or potential employer)?
- Who should you involve in the conversation?
- How should you follow up on your request?
- What are your rights if things go wrong?
If you have additional questions, an MS Navigator is ready for your call.
Kris Graham is the employment manager for the National MS Society.
These Resources Can Provide More Help and Information
- The Win-Win Approach to Reasonable Accommodations, available at www.nationalMSsociety.org/accommodations.
- ADA — Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability, available at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website at www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html.
- Employees’ Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, available at www.askjan.org/EeGuide.
- JAN’s Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at www.askjan.org/soar/index.htm.