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Putting It All Together: A Case Example*

Pamela Watson, aged 34, was receiving benefits of $1,100 a month due to an AIDS diagnosis from PCP seven years ago. She wanted to work but was afraid of losing her SSDI check and Medicare. She talked with her case manager and a Social Security representative and learned that through work incentives she could receive Medicare and cash benefits while she was working. For the first nine months her benefits would not be affected no matter how much money she earned, so Pamela started working part time in a local business and earned $1,350/month:

Gross Earnings$ 1,350
SSDI+ $ 1,100
Total Income= $ 2,450

At the end of 9 months (the Trial Work Period), Social Security evaluated Pamela's case. Since she was earning more than $1,220 (Substantial Gainful Activity level) per month, her benefit continued for 3 months and then stopped. Because she was still disabled her benefits could be reinstated at anytime during the next 36 months (the Extended Period of Eligibility) if her earnings dropped below the SGA.

During the first year after her Trial Work period, Pamela's employer moved outside the city, where there was no bus service. Pamela hired a neighbor to drive her to work in the morning and paid a coworker to bring her home. The cost of these transportation services was $170 each month. She also purchased a special piece of medical equipment for $120 a month that made it possible for her to do her job. Those were counted as Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) and Pamela's countable income dropped to below the SGA of $1,220 per month:

Gross Earnings$1,350
IRWE transportation-$ 170
IRWE equipment-$ 120
Countable Earnings=$ 1,060

Countable Earnings$ 1,060
Social Security check+ $ 1,100
Total Income= $2,160

After a year, Pamela paid off the medical equipment and at the same time her earnings increased to $1,500 per month, increasing her countable earnings to $1,330 per month:

Her countable earnings were greater than the SGA level and so her SSDI checks stopped.

Gross Earnings$1,500
IRWE transportation-$ 170
Countable earnings=$1,330

This example shows how a person can move in and out of the Social Security system while working. Work incentives create a safety net of continued benefits so that you can try to build your confidence at work and about your health before your benefits are reduced or stopped.

* Based on an example from the "Handbook on Working While Disabled" published by the SSA.

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