Deanna Gets a Job

Deanna and her Ticket to Work Employment Network, Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), looked at job listings for months. Deanna didn’t know where jobs were listed, but her counselor at VRS did, and he would show her job listings and help her figure out which ones to apply for. She got a few interviews, but nothing panned out at first.

Then one day, her counselor at VRS called to tell her that he thought he had found the perfect job for her, a $1,200-a-month part-time job at a woman’s shelter. She thought this sounded great, so she wrote a really nice cover letter for the job and sent it in along with a copy of her resume. A couple of days later, the shelter called her up to schedule an interview. She did a mock interview with her VRS counselor and felt confident for the real interview the following day. And that interview went fabulously — she got a call the next day with a job offer!

The job sounded great, but Deanna feared that taking the job might force her to lose her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and her MA coverage, and with it, her therapist. It seemed strange, but Deanna wondered if remaining unemployed and staying on SSI could actually work out better than getting a job.

To try to figure things out, Deanna made a list of her top goals:

  • Keep her MA coverage
  • Continue seeing her therapist, and
  • Make more money by working than she would get by sticking with her SSI and MSA.

She wasn’t sure if she could accomplish all these things, but she decided if it could be done, she wanted to take the job. She remembered that DB101 had a Benefits and Work Estimator, so she tried it out and learned that she might be able to take the job and still get some benefits. But she really wanted to get advice from another person, just to be totally sure.

DB101 pointed her to the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection, who set her up with a benefits expert named Ruth. Ruth was trained in benefits issues including those related to Social Security work rules and MA.

Deanna told Ruth the whole complicated situation over the phone. Ruth had heard similar tales many times before; people wanted to return to work but were afraid of losing their benefits.

“I know you are in a rush to figure this out so you can respond to the job offer. Can you come by my office tomorrow?” Ruth asked. Deanna agreed and got together all her important papers in a folder – bank statements, SSI deposit notices, and MA paperwork. The next day she took the folder with her when she went to see Ruth at her office.

Deanna was on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which directly deposited $771 into her bank account on the first day of each month. Deanna also got $81 each month from Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and had Medical Assistance (MA) health coverage. Each of these benefits had its own eligibility rules, but since they all were designed to help people go back to work, Ruth said that Deanna would almost certainly be better off taking the job after they did all the calculations.

How the Job Would Impact Deanna’s Benefits

First, Ruth said that it would be best to figure out how taking this job would affect Deanna’s income. Deanna was getting direct deposits into her bank account from 2 different programs: SSI and MSA. So, Ruth had to help her figure out how making $1,200 at a job each month would change those benefits.

She explained, “Look, you get SSI and MSA because you don’t make much money. When you make money at a job, your SSI and MSA will go down or could disappear. That said, overall, when you figure in the money you earn at a job, you’ll always be better off working. Let’s start doing the math.”

Ruth explained everything and gave her a printout of Deanna’s situation, entitled “Deanna’s SSI Countable Income Calculation.”

Deanna’s SSI Countable Income Calculation
  1. Find your countable unearned income. This is your monthly unearned income (an SSDI benefit, for example) minus a $20 general income exclusion. Deanna didn’t have any unearned income.
  2. Find your countable earned income.
    1. Take your gross monthly earned income and subtract a $65 earned income exclusion. Deanna would be earning $1,200 a month and since she didn’t have any unearned income, she could subtract both the $65 earned income exclusion and the $20 general income exclusion from her earned income.
    2. If you have any Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE), you can also subtract them from your earned income. Deanna didn’t have any, so she skipped this step.
    3. Take the resulting figure and divide by 2 to find your countable earned income. “See?” said Ruth. “It’s counting less than half of the money you’d make at work.”
  3. Add your countable unearned income and your countable earned income to figure out your total countable income for SSI.
Deanna's Countable Income

Ruth explained that since Deanna's total countable income of $557.50 was lower than SSI's monthly benefit rate of $771 for an individual, Deanna would keep getting SSI, but less than before. “We subtract your countable income from the SSI monthly benefit rate to see what you would get." She did some more math on another sheet of paper and handed it to Deanna, "But, since you'll still have the $1,200 from your job each month and will keep getting the $81 from MSA, your total income will be a lot more than it was before you had a job. You'll even keep getting SNAP.”

Deanna's Total Income (with a job)

Deanna’s eyes widened when she saw the numbers, “$1,494.50 is way more than the $852 I've been getting each month from SSI and MSA combined. I’ll be much better off if I get a job!”

“Right,” said Ruth. “Now remember, when you take that job, you’ve got to report your change in income to Social Security right away, so they don’t keep paying your SSI benefits at the old rate. If that happens, you’ll just have to pay it back later, and nobody wants that.”

“Got it,” said Deanna. “Now what about my MA health coverage? Will I get to keep it too?”

Ruth said it was a lot easier to figure out whether Deanna would keep qualifying for MA. “MA seems kind of confusing at first, because there’re several ways to qualify. But really, almost anybody who gets SSI will also qualify for MA. The only thing you have to do is make sure to update your information with your local county human services agency, so that your MA coverage continues.”

“Great!” laughed Deanna, “I’ve got to go call up the women’s shelter and tell them that I’m ready to start on Monday!”