The Economics of Recovery: Demystifying Government Work Incentives

Joanne is diagnosed with Schizophrenia. She receives $761/Mo. in Social Security Disability Income (SSI), $200/Mo. in Food Stamps, she has her own one-bedroom apartment thru Supported Housing (Section 8), Medicaid and a half-fare bus pass.

She applied for a part-time cashiers’ position at A&P across town, she’ll earn eight dollars an hour and work seven hours on Saturdays.

Joanne and her Caseworker are estimating her monthly budget. They’re shocked to learn the work-related expenses come to $77/Mo. – that’s about one-third of her estimated gross salary of $224/Mo. But, if Joanne brings her own sandwich and water from home, she estimates she could cut her expenses by $20/Mo.

However, the earnings penalties from three of Joanne’s’ Government Benefit Programs; disability income, housing & food are substantial; they total $233/Mo. Together with her $77/Mo. in work related expenses, they wipe away any financial reason for her to return to work.

Her Caseworker then remembers SSAs’ Red Book that said if a person on SSI applied for various work incentives, like Ticket-To-Work and Pass Plan, they could return to self-sustaining work. They clicked on incentives.

Joanne consults SSAs’ Ticket-To-Work Booklet, (05-10060), and learns that the only benefit for her to enroll would be to avoid triggering a disability review, (CDR) if she ever makes over the $700/Mo. Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). The Ticket to Work will not solve her problem of how to keep more of her $224/Mo. gross salary.

She then explores SSAs’ Pass Plan (05-11017) and learns this is a savings plan. This won’t help her either because there is no money left over for her to save.

Her Caseworker has heard 1619(b) will let her earn over forty thousand dollars a year and enable her to keep her Medicaid. But this won’t help Joanne, her problem is much smaller. Same story with the Medicaid Buy-In; she can only dream of making more than $19,000/Yr.

After reviewing the various Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE’s), only “transportation”; consisting of an unreimbursed medically prescribed car service might apply. But it still wouldn’t solve her problem of helping her keep more of her salary.

The $2,400 Work Opportunity Tax Credit would only help her employer, not her. And, she knows A&P wouldn’t go for a Subsidy.

Out of the eight work incentives, only one; HUDs’ Earned Income Disallowance would actually help Joanne. If she could save the $67/Mo. Section 8 rent deduction for the first year ($33/Mo. for the 2nd) – she could reduce her total Government deductions to $166. However, these deductions and, the $77/Mo. in work related expenses, a total of $243/Mo., would still result in a net monthly loss for Joanne of nineteen dollars.

Joanne and her Caseworker conclude these work incentives don’t address her basic financial needs and decide not to pursue employment.

In spite of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in the United States for the recovery and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities; health care, housing, education/VR, community supports, job supports and more, we are unable to help more than one-half of one percent achieve self-sustaining employment (SSA, 2007 Annual Statistical Report; tables 43 and 53).

When you examine the fine print of SSA’s work incentives, you find they don’t apply to ninety-nine percent of SSI Recipients.

This failure affects every one of the over twelve million persons with physical and mental disabilities in the U.S.; it is a waste of their lives and talents an enormous loss to the economy, an unnecessary burden to the taxpayer and drain on the Social Security Trust Fund.

America cannot afford to continue this colossal waste of life and resources. It is time for change. It is time to act. We don’t need another study, SSA has already provided the data.

Whatever the solution is for achieving self-sufficiency, it will require leadership and bi-partisan coordination. History has demonstrated it won’t be solved by SSA and the Academics.

We envision a series of public-private partnerships, with businesspersons leading the way. These pilot studies could include a variety of scenarios: (1)European-style integrated on-site employer-caregiver programs; (2) Incentivized work-study programs based on ability/performance & a waiver of Government earnings penalties; (3) Parity return-to-work regulations for SSI & SSDI populations; and (4) Outsource transition-to-work programs from SSA/VR to DOL & OMH, Manpower and Goodwill Industries.

In light of this evidence, we submitted testimony last June recommending that the Ways & Means Committee postpone reauthorization of WIPA & PABSS until a thorough review of the Economics of Recovery can be conducted for both SSI & DI recipients.

SSA’s testimony to the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on the reauthorization of work incentives would have us believe their work incentives would be effective in returning recipients to self-sufficient work, if only more people knew about them. They talk of Demonstrations & Studies that will prove their effectiveness in years to come if the Committee will only be patient. SSA’s requests to the Committee are the same in 1999 and 2009; “give us more time and money”.

The promise of hope is that for each one percent we help get off Government Benefits, they will contribute over three billion dollars to SSA’s Trust Fund (GAO).

These facts present a unique historical opportunity to correct this injustice by helping millions of persons with disabilities become self-sufficient.

Please help by making self-sufficiency a part of your 2009 agenda. To read the full report, go to:

Thank you.

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