Thursday, September 05, 2013
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Let Social Security help guide you to work

By Becky Whitlow, Social Security district manager in Springfield

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[September 05, 2013]  SPRINGFIELD -- September is National Guide Dog Month. The celebration of the work that guide dogs do each day was inspired by actor Dick Van Patten, who wanted to raise awareness and money for guide dog schools.

Many people who depend on guide dogs also depend on disability benefits. People who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income due to a disability suffer from severe ailments that make them unable to work and provide for themselves. However, sometimes it is possible -- with a little help -- for people with disabilities to become self-sufficient through work.

If you are getting disability benefits, the Social Security staff understands how difficult the prospect of trying to work can be. We also understand that the possibility of having medical and financial benefits cut off can be frightening. But rest assured, Social Security has some great work incentives in place that allow people with disabilities to "test the waters" and prove that they can work before any benefits are stopped. That makes it inviting to try. Even if things don't work out, the benefits will still be there for you.

These work incentives include continued cash benefits for a period of time while you work, continued Medicare or Medicaid while you work, and help with education, training and rehabilitation to start a new line of work. The rules vary depending on whether you receive Social Security or SSI.

Although the ultimate goal of work incentives is to help bridge the gap between a dependence on monthly benefits and self-sufficiency, Social Security casts a large safety net to make sure you do not find yourself in dangerous waters. You may continue to receive benefits while working, and medical benefits can sometimes continue to provide coverage for years.

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When a person who receives Social Security or SSI disability benefits works, there are certain impairment-related work expenses that are deducted from your countable income, making it possible to earn more and remain eligible to receive benefits. For SSI, these excluded expenses can allow you to receive a higher benefit payment. Examples of these impairment-related work expenses include wheelchairs, certain transportation costs and specialized work-related equipment. Work expenses for the blind can include guide dog expenses, meals consumed during work hours and income used to pay income taxes.

You can learn all about the different rules for both Social Security and SSI in the publication "Working While Disabled -- How We Can Help," available to read or listen to at From that page, type the title in the box at the left side of the page. The online booklet will tell you about the work incentives you may be able to use.

You also can put the word "work" in the publications search box to find out more about how Social Security's work incentives can help you. Pay special attention to the publications entitled "Incentives to Help You Return to Work" and "Your Ticket to Work." These publications, which you can read or listen to, will guide you as you consider your options.

[By BECKY WHITLOW, Social Security district manager in Springfield]

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