FARMINGTON – An agency overseeing a new program offering employment assistance to employers and Social Security beneficiaries in the Parkland is seeking to tell others about the services it provides.
The L.I.F.E., Inc. Center for Independent Living in Farmington recently launched the new Employment Network, L.I.F.E., Inc. Employment Solutions and held an open house for the community in mid-October. The new Employment Network offers free assistance with career exploration, resume building, interview skills, job coaching, job placement and other employment related services to ticket holders in the Social Security “Ticket to Work” program.
“L.I.F.E., Inc.’s ongoing commitment to quality, individualized assistance will ensure that ticket holders receive the best quality information and support available,” said Tim Azinger, executive director. This is a complete disability resource center, offering a variety of services empowering people with disabilities to live independently with confidence. Its staff, the majority of whom cope with a disability of their own, promotes the full inclusion of those with disabilities into mainstream society.
Employment Solutions Staff
One ongoing service is benefits counseling by Employment Network Director Theresa Scherer, who also serves as the center’s Community Work Incentive coordinator and heads up Employment Solutions.
“For the past 11 years, Ms. Scherer has helped individuals understand the rules and regulations of Social Security work incentives and other state benefits,” said Azinger.
Candy Zarcone and Denise Schimweg were brought on to assist Scherer in the new program. Zarcone, formerly the special programs consultant for the St. Francois County Community Partnership is serving as Employment and Training coordinator. Schimweg, who has 30 years of experience as a special educator, is serving as Transition Age Youth Employment specialist.
“Benefits counseling helps individuals determine the effects of income on their current benefits,” said Azinger. “This knowledge empowers each person to make informed choices on their road to success. Ms. Zarcone and Ms. Schimweg have trained to become Certified Work Incentive coordinators to further meet the needs of the 12 counties served by L.I.F.E., Inc. Employment Solutions. By providing employment support, Employment Solutions will greatly enhance services offered at the L.I.F.E. Center.”
Zarcone said the staff believes Employment Solutions will prove to be a positive addition to the Parkland.
“We’re really excited about this new program and the help that it will provide employers and Social Security beneficiaries living in the Parkland,” said Zarcone. “For employers, Employment Solutions will be able to supply them with qualified candidates, as well as on-going support and information about tax credits. Beneficiaries will be offered assistance in career exploration, interview skills, resume writing, job coaching and benefits counseling.”
According to Zarcone, the new program is offering four unique services above what is offered at other agencies that assist people with disabilities in gaining employment.
“Employment Solutions provides benefits counseling, a youth transition specialist, L.I.F.E. services and on-going support through all phases of employment,” she said. “We also have a wide reach since we serve Cape Girardeau, Crawford, Dent, Iron, Jefferson, Madison, Perry, Phelps, Reynolds, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Washington counties.
“The truth is that hiring people with disabilities is the smart thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the profitable thing to do. Here at L.I.F.E., Inc., we know that these assertions are true and we put our money where our mouth is. In fact, more than 50 percent of our own employees experience a disability.”
Zarcone said there are some misconceptions on the part of businesses that cause them to shy away from hiring people with disabilities.
“They’re concerned about whether or not they will have the ability to do the job, their education, added costs to the company and how well customers will respond to them in the workplace,” she explained.
To answer those concerns, Zarcone offered these facts:
• Employees with disabilities have lower rates of absenteeism and less turnover than employees without disabilities, according to a 2008 corporate practices study conducted by Rutgers University. Better attendance records and longer tenures directly correlate to increased productivity and revenue for employers.
• According to the American Community Survey (ACS), there are 2.3 million working age adults with disabilities who have a bachelors degree or higher, and an additional 2.2 million who are currently in college. Many others have vocational training and relevant work experience.
• Tax incentives are available. Those include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit — up to $2,400 per year; the Small Business Tax Credit — up to $5,000; and the Tax Deduction to Remove Architectural and Transportation Barriers to People with Disabilities and Elderly Individuals, offering up to $15,000 per year to businesses that hire employees with disabilities.
• Hiring people with disabilities does not increase Workers’ Compensation rates. The rates are based solely on the type of business operation and loss history and not on the demographics of employees.
• According to the “National Survey of Consumer Attitudes Towards Companies that Hire People with Disabilities,” 92 percent of the American public view companies that hire people with disabilities more favorably than those that do not, and 87 percent of the public prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.
“We understand that for businesses, profit is the primary goal,” said Zarcone. “Employment Solutions wants to serve area businesses by supplying them with qualified, capable applicants who will increase revenue and reduce costs. The return on investment when you employ people with disabilities goes beyond profit. Businesses that employ people with disabilities turn social issues into business opportunities.”
Beneficiary Advantages / Myths
She said there are distinct advantages for Social Security beneficiaries who choose to work rather than rely on government assistance alone.
“Work pays in several ways,” said Zarcone. “Of course it pays financially, but it also pays in self-esteem and independence. Also, beneficiaries who take advantage of this program are protected from Continuing Disability Reviews as long as they are making progress. They are given on-going support and offered specialized employment services.”
She said that employers aren’t the only ones with misconceptions — Social Security beneficiaries have some, too.
“First, some are afraid that if they try to go to work, they’ll automatically loose their Medicare or Medicaid,” said Zarcone.
This, she said, is a myth. According to Zarcone, for as long as they keep receiving a benefit check of any amount, they will keep their health insurance. If they earn enough that their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) checks stop, Medicare can continue for up to 93 months. If they currently receive Medicaid, they should be eligible to continue to receive Medicaid even after they stop receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to work. To be eligible, a beneficiary has to meet certain requirements, including earnings below a threshold amount set by the state. Even if a beneficiary’s earnings exceed the state threshold, they may still be eligible and should talk to their state Medicaid office.
“Some Social Security beneficiaries are afraid that if they use their ticket to go to work, Social Security will conduct a medical review of their case and they will loose their benefits,” said Zarcone. “This is also a myth.”
If you use your ticket to help you go to work, Zarcone says Social Security cannot perform what is known as a Continuing Disability Review (CDR) to see whether they still have a disability. Even if they would otherwise be scheduled to have a disability review, Social Security will postpone their review while their ticket is in use and they are making progress toward their work goals.
“Their third common misconception is the concern that, if their checks stop because they go to work and then they have to stop working because of their disability, they will have to reapply for benefits all over again,” said Zarcone. “They think that, because it took them so long to be approved for benefits, they can’t afford to wait that long again. As a result, they shouldn’t try to work.”
This is another myth, says Zarcone. The beneficiary will not need to reapply if their benefits ended within the past five years due to their earnings and they meet a few other requirements — including that they still have the original medical condition or one related to it that prevents you from working. This is a work incentive called Expedited Reinstatement. The beneficiary may even be able to receive up to six months of temporary cash benefits in addition to Medicare or Medicaid coverage while SSA conducts a medical review to determine if the beneficiary’s benefits can be reinstated.
To take advantage of the services Employment Solutions has to offer, call 573-756-4314, 800-596-7273 or TTY: 573-760-1402. L.I.F.E., Inc. Center for Independent Living is located at 725 E. Karsch Blvd. in Farmington.
Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at email@example.com.