Deanna Gets a Job

Deanna and her Ticket to Work Employment Network, the Arizona Rehabilitation Services Administration (AZRSA) , looked at job listings for months. Deanna didn’t know where jobs were listed, but her counselor at AZRSA 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 AZRSA 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 AZRSA 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 AHCCCS 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 AHCCCS coverage
  • Continue seeing her therapist, and
  • Make more money by working than she would get by sticking with her SSI.

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 Ability360, who set her up with a Work Incentive Consultant named Ruth. Ruth was trained in benefits issues including those related to Social Security work rules and AHCCCS.

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 AHCCCS 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 Nutrition Assistance and had AHCCCS 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's only income was her direct deposit each month from SSI. So, Ruth had to help Deanna figure out how making $1,200 at a job each month would change her SSI.

Ruth explained, “Look, you get SSI because you don’t make much money. When you make money at a job, your SSI 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, your total income will be a lot more than it was before you had a job. You'll even keep getting Nutrition Assistance.”

Deanna's Total Income (with a job)

Deanna’s eyes widened when she saw the numbers, “$1,413.50 is way more than the $771 I've been getting each month from SSI. 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 AHCCCS health coverage? Will I get to keep it too?”

Ruth smiled, "Of course! That's because as long as you're on SSI, you'll always get AHCCCS coverage automatically and you won't have to do any extra paperwork."

“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!”