New research helps Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries return to work

Question of the month

Q: I've heard something about a new Social Security research study that helps people get back to work: do you know anything about this?

A: Yes; The Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND) is a project created to help Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries return to work. We know that many SSDI beneficiaries worry about losing their cash benefits if they earn too much money. BOND is designed to help eliminate this problem and will help participants who want to earn more, keep more of their SSDI income. The program will last 5 years and will give some beneficiaries in selected geographic locations the chance to return to work or earn more than they do now.

The purpose of the BOND project is to determine the effect of various interventions, in combination with a benefit offset, on employment outcomes including wages, benefits, hours worked, and job retention. Under current Social Security Disability program rules, people earning more than $12,000 per year (after their Trial Work Period) generally have their benefits stopped. Under the BOND project, benefits will be reduced $1 for every $2 in earnings above $12,000 over Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) levels,once the worker has exhausted both their trial work period and their three month grace period.

How it works:

Income is estimated for the year, and averaged over 12 months to determine an average income used to calculate the benefit. It is a $1 for $2 earned reduction, after an exempt amount of $12,000 annually. So if the worker earns $15,000 in a year, the countable income is $3,000 ($15,000-$12,000). Then that $3,000 is divided by 2, (the 2/1 offset) equaling $1,500. Lastly, the $1,500 is divided by the 12 month period, resulting in the workers SSDI being reduced by $125.00 (($3000/2) / 12) each month.

If the worker earns less than $12,000 in a year, then there is no reduction. It seems SSA will look at tax returns and go back and adjust based on actual income earned compared to estimates.

The project will allow beneficiaries to face this gradual reduction in their benefits, eliminating the abrupt loss of cash benefits in the SSDI disability program when a beneficiary works and has earnings over a specific amount. Participants will maintain ongoing eligibility for health care benefits and other supports linked to SSDI eligibility.

Many Americans with disabilities make valuable contributions to the U.S. workforce every day. The SSA is evaluating the BOND project to help more people return to work and earn more, helping them take steps toward a better quality of life. Participating states/areas are; Alabama, Arizona/Southeast California, Colorado/Wyoming, DC Metro, Detroit, Greater Houston, Northern New England, South Florida, Western New York and Wisconsin. The start/enrollment date will be January 2011 through September 2012

SSDI beneficiaries in the ten SSA Area offices are randomly assigned to: (1) a group that is notified that they are eligible for a benefit offset if they return to work; or (2) a control group that—while not eligible for these changes—will remain eligible for SSDI benefits and services under existing program rules.

For more information about the BOND project visit their website at: call toll free at: 1-877-726-6309.