The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed with the intent of decreasing the barriers to employment. These physical barriers were discriminatory as they kept qualified individuals from simply accessing the building. By removing physical barriers within the workplace, there were hopes that more people with disabilities would have access to employment. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities has not changed much since the passing of the ADA. If we removed the employment discrimination, what else is causing the unemployment rate to remain stagnant?
Even though many physical barriers have been removed from the workplace, there is a bigger picture of why disabled people continue to not acquire employment. In 1935, the Social Security Act was passed, which greatly helped people with disabilities who could not work. This act was last amended in 1983, long before the ADA was written or passed. During that time, most people with disabilities did not work.
There are two social security programs. The first is the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI). SSI is for people who do not have a work history. The second program is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is for people with a work history. Your benefit amount is determined by how many work credits you earned based on age and previous employment. Many people with disabilities get SSI when they turn 18. The only way to get on SSI is to prove that you cannot work. SSI also comes with Medicaid. Medicaid is the only insurance that covers in-home care that does not prevent you from working. Medicaid is also known to be for people with little to no income.
Recently, Daman Wandke, the CEO and Founder of Wandke Consulting, met with a newly graduated collegiate with a disability who requires in-home care. He is interested in putting his college degree to work to get a job. Unfortunately, everyone he spoke with in the benefits system had told him that he was not allowed to work because he needed in-home care. Throughout college, he did not apply for paid internship opportunities because he was under the impression that he was not allowed to work due to Social Security only being allowed for people who can prove that they are unable to work. Kyann Flint, Director of Accessibility at Wandke Consulting, had a similar experience as this individual during her time in college.
There is a myth that people with disabilities cannot make money and keep their in-home care. Vocational Rehabilitation will pay for a student with a disability to get their college degree but does not always explain to these students that they can work. Wandke Consulting believes that the benefits systems and the myths around these systems are a significant contributor to what is preventing people with disabilities from getting jobs.
Let’s recap some of the advice that Daman gave this recent graduate. At first, he told him about a program called Apple Health for Workers with Disabilities (HWD). HWD is the name of the Medicaid Buy-In program in Washington State. Under HWD, workers with disabilities can keep Medicaid while working. To keep Medicaid, they pay a small percentage of their income to the state, two-and-a-half percent of their earned income and seven-and-a-half percent of their unearned income. Paying this premium, workers with disabilities keep their Medicaid, including their in-home care. At this point, the recent graduate was blown away that he had never learned about the information through the benefits system. HWD does not have an income or a resource limit. When Daman was in college, HWD had an income limit, but luckily, the state legislature overturned this income limit.
Supplemental Security Income also has a program called 1619(B). The 1619(B) Program has a different income limit in every state. SSI recipients who are working can keep their Medicaid up until that limit without paying a premium. The downside of 1619(B) is that you still have the $2,000 resource limit, which means you cannot have over $2,000 in your name at any time.
Luckily, another program will help you get around the $2,000 resource limit. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts were created for this reason, and ABLE accounts allow individuals with disabilities to save money that is not counted in the $2,000 resource limit. You can use these account funds on various expenses, including disability-related expenses, housing expenses, college, etc.
Benefits planning and knowledge are so important for people with disabilities. Here are a few resources that can help. If you live in Washington State or Oregon, the Northwest Access Fund can help you analyze the benefits for which you are eligible. The SSA Red Book is also a great resource about work incentives. Furthermore, the book Making Self-Employment for People with Disabilities is an excellent resource if you are self-employed.