Ben at a cafe in Paris

Ask Ben: Knowledge is Power!

In Ben Spec, Benefits and Employment Articles, Featured, News by Ben Spec

After an evening of fine dining in beautiful Paris, I’m ready to answer Juanita’s question about benefits.  I always have time to empower people with questions about disability benefits.  Knowledge is power!

Dear Ben,

I am going to start looking for a job. This will be my first job since my disability benefits started 5 years ago. Can you tell me some of the things I need to think about or do regarding my benefits, and how they will change when I have a job?


Dear Juanita,

That’s a great question to ask, and this is the right time to be asking it – before you start looking for a job.

The first thing you need to do is find out what type of cash benefit you get from Social Security – SSI, SSDI, or both.   You also need to be sure what insurance you have: Medicare or Medicaid, or both. These benefits sound very similar, but they’re very different in their purpose and rules, and how earnings and assets affect them.

Purpose and Rules of SSI and SSDI

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income

SSI provides cash payments to people who have a disability or are older than 65, AND have very low income and not much in savings. In Wisconsin, SSI automatically comes with Medicaid health insurance. The purpose of SSI is to increase the income of people with low income and limited assets.

SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance

You can be eligible for SSDI when you have a disability and have worked and earned enough. You pay for SSDI with taxes on your work earnings.  Then it’s like any other insurance:  you pay into a fund, and when you need it, the insurance pays you.  The amount of your payment depends on how much you have earned. The health insurance that comes with SSDI (after 2 years) is called Medicare. The purpose of SSDI is to replace some of the money you would have earned if you didn’t have a disability.

How Do Earnings and Assets Affect My Benefits?

Well, it’s complicated, and the answers will appear in this blog over time. But the important thing right now is to know that earnings and assets do affect benefits.  The effects are very different depending if you receive SSI, SSDI, or both.

Other benefits, such as health insurance, housing subsidies, and FoodShare are also affected by earnings, other sources of income, and assets.

So…. to understand how earnings from a job will affect your benefits, the first step is to learn exactly what all of your benefits are.

Know Your Benefits

There are a several ways to learn what benefits you receive:

  1. Contact your local Social Security office, or go to and set up a MySSA account.
  2. Reach out to your County Consortium to learn about your State/County benefits. You also can set up an account at Access.
  3. has information about your Medicare benefits.
  4. Connect with a work incentives benefits specialist (WIBS). A WIBS will work with you to verify each benefit you have, and then explain how earnings from work will affect those benefits.  They will also tell you about work incentives that are built into the benefit programs you have. Work incentives are rules that encourage work by reducing the impact of earnings on the benefit.
    • Talk with your DVR counselor about getting a Work Incentives Benefits Analysis.
    • If you’re not working with DVR:

Knowledge is Power

You may have heard the saying that “Knowledge is Power”. This certainly is true in regard to your disability benefits and work. Knowing what benefits you have, and how work affects them, gives you the power to make good choices about employment – choices that will leave you better off by working, not worse off.  Learn about your benefits, and become powerful!

I wish you all the best in your job search, Juanita. Check back with my blog to keep learning more about your benefits!


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