By Donald M. Fitch, MS
Center for Career Freedom
The purpose of this column is to assist providers and consumers to be more effective when negotiating with local government agencies for income, health care, housing, food, transportation, job training, employment and other social services.
The focus is on single adults (18-64) with a mental and/or physical disability, substance abuse issues and the homeless. The information is gleaned from government websites and local, state and federal government offices.
Tips for accessing benefits are based on assisting over nine hundred persons at the Center. Our experience is supplemented by regular mystery shopper, provider and consumer surveys.
Q. What are Mystery Shopper Surveys?
A. The Mystery Shopper interviewing technique has been used for years by business’ to monitor the effectiveness of their sales staff. At the Center, consumers often interview their local government workers on benefit and back-to-work issues. We have found the technique is useful in identifying the gap between local workers’ knowledge and their agencies’ website. In the process, we sometimes uncover opportunities for system reform.
For example, while researching why Department of Social Service (DSS) workers in New York award different amounts of Food Stamps to persons with identical eligibility criteria. We learned that they often skip the twenty-six step application form and ball-park the amount of the award).
- Mystery Shopper questions about wait times for Section8/Shelter Plus housing is 6 months to 5 years; Cost: $1,100 for a one bedroom apt. We found that local shelters’ charge the government $3,500/Mo and up per person, placing many people in the same room.
- When researching access to health care, several Medicaid recipients volunteered they regularly call an ambulance to take them to the ER, even if it is not an emergency (at about $2K per event).
Q. Several of my patients on disability are work ready. How much would they have to earn to replace the value of their income, health, housing, food, etc. benefits?
A. The average cost to replace these benefits is about $1,700/Mo or about $20,000/Yr. The economics of recovery for single persons living alone receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and or Social Security Income (SSI) are that they will require sufficient marketable skills to earn at least $14/hr and the endurance to work thirty-five hours/week.
Q. One way to cut Medicaid costs is to help recipients return to competitive employment. What are the savings to taxpayers for every consumer that returns to self-sustaining work?
A. The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates if one half of one percent of the SSI/SSDI recipients returned to work, the contribution to the Trust Fund would be thirty billion dollars. For every individual that returns to work, taxpayers save about $20,000 in government benefits. With a salary of 25K/Yr, their total contribution to the economy would be about $45,000/Yr or about $675,000 over their lifetime (15 years).
Q. How much can I earn before I’m cut off Welfare? My Case Worker does not know.
A. According to the NYS Office for Temporary Disability (OTDA) the overseer for all DSS Offices, there is no fixed income cap as there is for SSI/SSDI recipients. The maximum earned income cap is equal to the amount you receive from DSS (not including Food Stamps), plus a $90.00 income disregard.
For example, in Westchester County, the maximum Temporary Assistance (TA) grant is $408/Mo ($137.10/Mo for Basic, Home Energy Allowance (HEA), and $271/Mo for shelter). Therefore, the maximum amount one can earn must be less than $498/Mo or, your benefits willbe discontinued. (Freedom of Information law; 18 NYCRR 352.31 (a) (2) not available on the website).
Q. How much can a recipient on SSDI earn before their cutoff from SSAs’ income benefit?(Generally, SSDI recipients must have more than ten years paid employment)
A. SSAs’ maximum earned income cut off point for 2007 is $900/Mo. Some deductions apply. (SSAs’ Redbook).
This means a recipient could earn up to $900/Mo. and still keep their SSA benefits. For example, if a recipient returned to work part-time and earned $10/hr. and worked 10 hrs/week, they would have an income of about $400/Mo. In addition, if they received the average SSDI benefit of $943/Mo. in NYS, their total income, earned and unearned, would be $1443/Mo.
Q. And, how much can a recipient on SSI earn?(Generally SSI recipients have much less than ten years paid employment)
A. SSAs’ maximum earned income cut off point for 2007 is $1463/Mo. for recipients of SSI. However, SSA deducts half of their gross income, after $85., so the recipient gets to keep half of what they make, ($774) before employment related expenses; taxes, transportation, meals, work clothing, and Section 8/Shelter Plus housing.
We have found unless the SSI recipient is receiving free room and board, they cannot work their way off SSI – even with the Medicaid buy-in, Pass Plan, 1619b, etc. (ssa.gov) SSA does not dispute the Economics of Recovery. Legislation is required.
Please send your questions firstname.lastname@example.org. If your questions are used in the column you will receive a complimentary copy of Form-Link CD, a compilation of over sevenhundred pages of Government Benefit application forms.