The summer of 2007 felt like a bad dream for Terry Anderson. Reeling from a recent cancer diagnosis, she was downsized from the company where she'd worked for 11 years.
"There was no severance. I had no insurance," she said. "I was terrified."
Terry began receiving Social Security disability benefits and took an extended period of time away from work. Later, Terry learned about "one-stop career centers" that provide free employment-related support services through Social Security's Ticket to Work program to people receiving Social Security benefits. She decided to see what the Iowa Workforce Development Center, her local one-stop, had to offer. There are more than 1,000 one-stop career centers across the nation.
The one-stop staff explained the Ticket program is designed for people who receive Social Security disability benefits and are committed to achieving self-sufficiency through eventual full-time employment. Through the Ticket program, Iowa Workforce helped Terry coordinate her career preparation and job hunt. She updated her computer skills and built confidence in her prospects for long-term success.
"They offered workshops on interview skills," she said. "I had my resume refurbished. I learned fresh strategies. At first, I was too proud to ask for help. I'm glad that I did."
While Terry was eager to move on, she was apprehensive about finding work and losing her benefits. Terry learned about special Social Security rules called "work incentives," that help people who receive disability benefits transition to the workforce and become financially self-sufficient.
For example, people receiving disability benefits can keep their Medicare coverage and their cash benefits while gaining work experience during the Trial Work Period. Terry was relieved to learn about another Work Incentive called "expedited reinstatement," allowing her Social Security cash benefits to restart without a new application if she has to stop work within five years because of her disability.
Another helpful Work Incentive, known as a Plan to Achieve Self-Support, allows Social Security disability recipients who meet the income rules for Supplemental Security Income to set aside money to pay for items or services they need to reach a specific work goal. These can include educational expenses, training, job-related transportation, business startup costs, tools and equipment, child-care costs and even the cost of job interview clothes. By approving a PASS, Social Security agrees to exclude certain income that would normally lower an SSI payment amount. At the same time, the person agrees to go to work, with the goal of eventually leaving disability benefits behind and becoming financially self-sufficient.
In 2009, Terry found work as a loan servicing specialist and a second job in retail where she trains cashiers and enjoys interacting with customers. Terry was grateful that Social Security helped her "get through the storm." She built a better life through work. She no longer receives Social Security disability benefits.
"Now I'm healthy," she said. "I have two jobs. I love both of them. Life is good."
With support from Ticket to Work and Iowa Workforce Development Center, Terry found her path to self-sufficiency. To learn more about the Ticket to Work program, call the Ticket to Work help line at (866) 968-7842 (TTY/TTD, (866) 833-2967 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work.
Q: I applied for a replacement Social Security card last week but have not received it. When should I expect to receive my new card?
A: On average, it takes approximately 10 to 14 days to receive your replacement Social Security card. However, if we need to verify documents you present as proof of identity, it could take longer in some cases. For more information about your Social Security card and number, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.
Q: What can I do if I think someone has stolen my identity?
A: You should do several things, including:
File a report with the local police or the police department where the identity theft took place, and keep a copy of the police report as proof of the crime;
Notify the Federal Trade Commission at (877) ID-THEFT or (877) 438-4338; and
File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov; and contact the fraud units of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, (800) 525-6285); Trans Union, (800) 680-7289; and Experian, (888) 397-3742.
Learn more by reading our publication, Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html.
Q: I'm reaching my full retirement age and thinking about retiring in early 2013. When is the best time of year to apply for Social Security benefits?
A: If you are planning to retire in early 2013, you can apply now. You can apply as early as four months prior to when you want your monthly benefits to begin. To apply, just go to www.socialsecurity.gov/applytoretire. Applying online for retirement benefits from the convenience of your home or office is secure and can take as little as 15 minutes. It's so easy!
Q: My wife and I live in Minnesota, but plan to spend the winter in New Mexico. My wife will turn 62 while we are down south. Can she apply for benefits in New Mexico, or do we have to wait until we get back home to apply for retirement at our local Social Security office?
A: These days, you don't even have to be near a Social Security office to apply for benefits. Regardless of where you and your wife are living, you can apply for retirement benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applytoretire. It's so easy to do, and it can take as little as 15 minutes to complete and submit the application. If she prefers, your wife can file a retirement benefit application at any Social Security office - including the one closest to you in Minnesota, New Mexico, or wherever you happen to be.
Q: I am about to apply for Social Security disability benefits. I have two children, ages 9 and 12. If my application is approved, will they get benefits, too? Or do the children also have to be disabled to qualify for benefits on my record?
A: If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your children may receive dependent's benefits based on your work record, even if they're not disabled themselves. As long as you receive benefits, their benefits will continue until they reach age 18, or until age 19 if they are still in high school. If your children are disabled, however, at the time that they reach age 18, they may be able to continue receiving benefits into adulthood. For more information, visit our website on disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
Q: I am 57 years old and I currently receive Social Security disability benefits. Can I still get my regular Social Security retirement benefits when I reach full retirement age?
A: If you are still receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach your full retirement age, we will automatically switch you from disability benefits to retirement benefits at that point. The money amount will remain the same. For more information, visit our website on disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
Q: I'm 38 years old and have been approved to receive Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. I was surprised to learn that my payment will be reduced because I live with my mom. Why's that?
A: SSI is a needs-based program, so any other income you receive - including non-monetary income such as help with your bills or other expenses - can have an effect on your benefit payment. Your SSI payments may be reduced if you are receiving food, shelter or monetary assistance. If you move, or if the situation in your mom's household changes, be sure to contact Social Security. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
Q: I am trying to save up for a truck. I have $1,200 in the bank now and need a little more. How much cash can I have in the bank without affecting my Supplemental Security Income eligibility?
A: The resource limit is $2,000. Unless you have other valuable resources, this means you could save up to $2,000 before you would become ineligible for SSI. We generally do not count your primary car, the home you live in or certain amounts set aside for burial expenses as resources. In some cases, if the vehicle you're saving for is part of a plan to return to work, you can have higher resources - but Social Security would need to approve your plan in order to exclude those resources. For more information, you can visit our webpage about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
(Reynolds is the Social Security manager in Steubenville.)