UMass Medical School’s BenePLAN program helps individuals with disabilities understand how earning wages will affect their public benefits

August 03, 2016

UMass Medical School’s BenePLAN program helps individuals with disabilities understand how working and earning wages will affect their public benefits, including those provided by the U.S. Social Security Administration and state Medicaid programs.

A program of UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits, BenePLAN provides counseling, training and technical assistance. Starting a job, returning to work or increasing earnings may affect benefits that include MassHealth, the Massachusetts Medicaid program; Medicare; Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

BenePLAN employs certified Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWICs) who have extensive training and experience in employment and public benefits to serve beneficiaries in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, Worcester and Middlesex counties.

The CWICs provide ongoing assistance to help individuals with disabilities manage their benefits as they transition into employment or increase their earnings; provide information on education, training and employment services; and help develop and implement plans to achieve their employment and financial goals.

In addition to providing direct counseling services to individuals with disabilities, BenePLAN CWICs also train employment specialists and case managers who work with job seekers, helping them to move forward in their career searches.  Employment specialists who have undergone the training work at the state’s One Stop Career Centers, vocational rehabilitation agencies, the Massachusetts departments of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities as well as private nonprofit organizations and school systems. The training focuses on Social Security and state benefits and tools that can help individuals achieve their financial goals. More than 700 employment specialists and case managers have been trained since 2012.

“Studies indicate that 75 percent of individuals with disabilities who are unemployed would prefer to be working,” says Kathy Petkauskos, director of Work Without Limits.  “Navigating the myriad public benefit programs, rules and wage reporting requirements is extremely complex and poses one of the major barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Programs such as BenePLAN provide accurate information to those who need it at the precise time they need it, all the while building the capacity of the service system. The value of this program and others like it should not be underestimated.”

BenePLAN was created in 2000 by Resource Partnership, a private nonprofit corporation based in Natick, through a Social Security Administration grant. The program has been administered by the Disability, Health and Employment Policy (DHEP) unit of the Center for Health Policy and Research within UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division since 2008.