Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Benefits Topics

You may also want to review our Glossary of Benefits Terms.

Benefits Specialists

Benefits Specialists look at the total picture for the individual and the family. Never rely on hearsay or people who are only a little familiar with benefits. Many people are misinformed about wages and benefits and make major life decisions based on incorrect information. Work is important, but from a financial perspective, the more important goal is maximizing income. A Benefits Specialist can help to identify all the assets and income and how they are affected by wages, how to manage some possible incentives and in effect, maximize income.

There are now 83 Social Security Administration-funded Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Programs across the country. Some vocational rehabilitation, mental health and other primate agencies also may offer benefits counseling. The Social Security Help Line is a national, toll-free call center for Social Security beneficiaries seeking return-to-work information, support, and services. The Help Line is 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY).

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)

SSDI has a work incentive called Trial Work Period in which the person tests out the ability to work for at least 9 months (in a 60 month period). During a trial work period, the worker receives full benefits regardless of how much the earnings. Work has to be reported and the person must continue to have a disability. In 2015, a trial work month is any month the total earnings are over $780.

There is another work incentive called Extended Period of Eligibility. This allows another 36 months to work and get benefits for any month the earnings are not over $1090.00.

Wage Reporting Fact Sheet for SSA Disability Beneficiaries

This fact sheet provides information on what happens to your family member’s SSI when they return to work. It also provides information on where and when to report to the Social Security Administration.

SSDI Overpayments: What Your Can Do When Social Security Claims That You Were Paid Too Much SSDI

This downloadable booklet discusses your rights when the Social Security Administration (SSA) tells you that they have paid you too much SSDI money and asks you to pay the money back. It has been posted with permission from the creator, Disability Law Center, Inc.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

If someone is on SSI and working, the total income will be greater than if on SSI alone. Social Security Administration (SSA) considers a portion of the income the employee earns when calculating the SSI check. Only when your family member’s earnings are sizable would the SSI check be discontinued.

There are a number of incentives such as the Plan to Achieve Self Support, that can help your family member increase their usable income. The real goal should be to increase usable income, not necessarily to preserve benefits. These are two different things.

Wage Reporting Fact Sheet for SSA Disability Beneficiaries

This fact sheet provides information on what happens to your family member’s SSI when they return to work. It also provides information on where and when to report to the Social Security Administration.

2016 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) WORK RULES

This document provides an overview of SSI work rules for 2016. It has been posted with permission from the creator, Disability Law Center, Inc.

Social Security Work Incentives

A number of policies are built into the Social Security system to encourage people to work. These are some of the work incentives worth exploring to help maximize income:

For more information on any of these work incentives, please see the SSA Red Book, the links below, contact your local SSA offices.

Work Incentives That Go With the Ticket to Work Program

This resources explains how Work Incentives allow one to keep his/her benefits. It also explains how participating in Ticket to Work affects one’s medical and Social Security benefits.

Spotlight on Plan to Achieve Self Support – 2015 Edition

Social Security’s website with quick facts about PASS and how to set it up.

Cornell University – PASS Online

This website contains the basic information about a Plan to Achieve Self Support. It also includes a PASS application form, sample answers, and helpful hints that will help users finish the application.

Expedited SSDI Reinstatement

If a worker’s SSDI case closes because of work income and later they stop working within a 5 year period, the person can go to Social Security and request the case be reopened.

In this case, the person will get the SSDI cash benefit back provisionally for up to six months, while Social Security does a medical review. If the person’s medical team confirms that the person is disabled, the SSDI benefits will then continue.

Veterans Benefits

In the veteran’s systems the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) evaluates the extent of disability and whether the condition is service connected for calculating benefits. The VBA may look at whether or not the veteran is able to work for twelve consecutive months. As always, there are many rules & factors to consider in these calculations.

Similarly, numerous factors determine the impact of work on veterans’ benefits. We have developed a separate fact sheet to better describe what happens when veterans go to work.

VA Fact Sheet

Explore information about veterans benefits and healthcare through this fact sheet.

Health Benefits from the VA

Learn about the different health care benefits available through the VA, and how to access them.

Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors

Find out more about the federal benefits available to veterans and their dependents through this guide created by the VA.

Guide to VA Mental Health Services for Veterans and Families

This brochure is a shorter, simpler version of the VA’s latest mental health handbook. It provides guidelines for VA hospitals and clinics across the US. The VA designed this version for use by the general public.

Worker’s Compensation

Worker’s Compensation is involved when a worker becomes injured or ill on the job and the injury or illness is job related. The State of New York created a comprehensive FAQ page about what happens to someone who wants to return to work.

If you do not live in NY state please replace Section 18 with your local office numbers. Beyond that, all information on the FAQ is applicable to all 50 states.


There is, and has been for many years, a way for a person with a disability who is working to retain their health benefits (1619 b section of Social Security). It works as long as the worker is still considered “disabled” until income reaches a level determined by the state. Some of the Medicaid benefits vary from state to state as some of the states offer different subsidies.

Today, with the Affordable Care Act, there are a number of insurances that can be used by working people. These also vary by state. If the worker is employed enough hours, they may be offered health benefits by the employer. (Medicaid)


If SSDI stops due to earnings, but the family member is still disabled, Medicare Part A will continue for at least 93 months after the Trial Work Period. Then the person can buy Medicare Part A coverage by paying a premium. Medicare Part B can be continued if the premium is paid, or Part B can be ended if the person requests. (Medicare)

Affordable Care Act

This act provides for many changes to the health care system that impact persons with disabilities. (National Council on Disability)

Americans (with a few exceptions) are now required to have some health benefits whether working or not. When people file their tax returns they must give evidence of their health benefits or pay a penalty. Insurance companies are no longer able to penalize people who have pre-existing conditions such as mental health conditions. Young people are able to be covered under their parents’ policies up to age 26.

There are state-based health plan “exchanges” through which individuals and small businesses can purchase coverage with pooled risk and thus lower premiums.

Understanding the Affordable Care Act

Peerlink has compiled these informative videos and links to credible resources that explain the Affordable Care Act in plain English.

Subsidized Housing

Housing subsidies are one of the main ways that low-income individuals can maximize income or save for the future. Often the subsidy requires that the tenants pay only 30% of their income. In today’s housing market, this is a great asset. There are various kinds of public housing (owned by housing authority) or housing vouchers (not owned by the housing authority). (MassLegalHelp)

Generally with a subsidy, as one’s income goes up so does the rent, but for those on Social Security who go to work, there is a special program called Earned Income Disregard. Instead of having to pay the increased rent, the person who is eligible for Earned Income Disregard has a two year period to transition to the increased rent. During the first 12 months there will be NO rent increase due to earned income. In the next 12 months only 50% of the increase will be required. (HUD)

The best way to find out about this grace period is to ask the the housing authority directly. Some subsidies are attached to specific housing units and some are certificates which can be used anywhere within certain geographic areas. Units within elderly housing are at times “set aside” for disabled persons (and this can include persons with mental health conditions.) Keep in mind that getting housing subsidies can take a long time to acquire in many locations.

Other Resources to Maximize Income

There are many resources, provided by both government and private agencies which help individuals to maximize their income. When calculating the impact of work on benefits, all resources should be taken into account, especially housing and food.

These “budget stretchers” include but are not limited to:

  • Cars – Several organizations have been established to assist low income person to purchase an automobile at a low rate in order to go to and from work.  Keep in mind there are many requirements and low inventory of cars.
  • Food Pantries & Soup Kitchens – These are generally privately supported resources that help low income individuals to obtain free groceries or meals in local communities and neighborhoods.
  • Food Stamps – Known as SNAP, this program provides cards to lower-income Americans and qualified resident aliens in order to purchase the foods necessary to supplement their diet.
  • Thrift Shops – There are many thrift and consignment shops that provide significantly discounted clothing. Some will provide free outfits for low income job seekers.
  • WIC – A program for Women, Infants and Children which offers additional free foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and referrals to healthcare and other services to families who qualify.

Other Factors

It is also very important to look at other factors that can reduce or expand income resources:

  • Changes in income aside from wages
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Number of deductions the person claims for taxes such as going from 0 to 1 or including a foster child. Attending to deductions and other tax related matters will determine the usable income your family member has.
  • Use of Social Security work incentives such as the Impairment Related Work Expenses.
  • If your family members is self employed (many important factors such as money received from business, amount of deductions, if family owned etc.) (Guide to Self Employment)

Saving for Home, Education, or Business

Review all the work incentives and see which ones can benefit your family member. For example, if they use the PASS funds can be set aside by Social Security Administration which always go into a separate account. These extra funds could be used to save for important items such as education, training costs, and supplies to meet a specific, approved, work goal.

Individual Development Accounts are valuable tools when working towards a financial goal such as savings for a home or education.

Individual Development Accounts By State

Learn more about IDAs and how these accounts vary from state to state.

Individual Development Accounts (IDA) and Plans to Achieve Self Support (PASS): Exploring the Opportunities

Includes information about IDA and PASS, as well as examples about how PASS affects one’s SSI benefits and a comparison of both IDA and PASS.