Research on Employment Supports for People with Disabilities: Summary of the Focus Group Findings. Public Income Support

09/01/2001

Public income support programs supplement income through direct cash payments. Several of the programs described below are designed to insure workers against a loss of income due to a disabling physical or mental health condition. Other programs are not designed specifically for people with disabilities; however, a large percentage of individuals who receive program benefits have disabilities or have a child with a disability so we include them here.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Under the Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program, persons age 65 years and older, or those who are blind or disabled (including children), receive maintenance payments and supportive services, including emergency assistance and payment for burial. The services are administered by county welfare agencies. For eligible individuals, a state supplement is provided, increasing the net countable income up to the state standard for the respective living arrangement. Recipients residing in Title XIX nursing home facilities receive a personal need allowance, as well.

The California Department Social Services administers the SSI program statewide. The Social Security Administration charges each state a fee for processing the state supplement to the SSI payment. The total caseload as of August 1997 was 1,015,751. Maximum SSI payments each month (for the calendar year 1997) were as follows: $640.40 for Disabled/aged living separately, and $695.40 for a blind individual living independently.2

Social Security Disability Insurance (DI). The DI program provides cash payments to individuals with work histories who have a medically determined disability expected to last at least 12 months or result in death, and who are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is currently defined as the equivalent of working with earnings above $740 a month.3 The payment amount for a worker is based on his or her lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. DI benefits replace a portion of the worker's prior earnings. DI beneficiaries with earnings above the SGA level are subject to a loss of their DI cash benefits, and after an extended period of work activity above the SGA level, a loss of the Medicare eligibility.4

California State Disability Insurance (SDI). This program is a partial wage replacement insurance plan for California workers administered by the Employment Development Department of California. SDI is state-mandated and is funded through employee payroll deductions. The program provides short-term benefits to eligible workers who suffer a loss of wages when they are unable to work due to a non work-related illness or injury, or a medically disabling condition from pregnancy or childbirth. Some employees are exempt from SDI: Railroad employees, some employees of non-profit agencies, employees claiming religious exemptions, and most government employees.

Coverage is not dependent on staying with one employer. SDI may pay up to 52 weeks of benefits with a seven-day waiting period. For disabilities beginning December 31, 1999 or before, weekly benefits range from $50 to $336. For disabilities beginning January 1, 2000 or after, weekly benefits range from $50 to $490.5

Workers' Compensation. Workers' Compensation is administered by the State of California's Division of Workers' Compensation. This program provides medical benefits, temporary total disability benefits, permanent partial benefits, VR services, and death benefits to workers injured on the job. The focus of this program is statewide, and it is available to employees or their dependents injured in the course of employment.6 The program provides the following benefits:

  • Medical Care: Injured workers are entitled to all medical care reasonably required to cure or relieve effects of the injury, with no deductible or co-payments by the injured worker.

  • Temporary Total Disability Benefits. Workers unable to return to work within three days are entitled to temporary disability benefits. These benefits are intended to partially replace wages lost due to the injury. The benefits are designed to replace two-thirds of lost wages, up to a maximum of $490 per week.

  • Permanent Partial Benefits. Permanently disabled workers (workers having a permanent labor market handicap) may receive permanent disability benefits. A permanently disabled worker receives the temporary disabled benefit for life. A worker determined to have a permanent partial disability receives weekly benefits for a period which increases with the percentage of disability (from four weeks for a one percent disability up to 694 weeks for a 100 percent disability).

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Injured workers unable to return to their former type of work are entitled to VR services if these services may be expected to return the worker to gainful employment. These services may include the development of a suitable plan, cost of training, and a maintenance allowance while the worker participates in rehabilitation. The maintenance payment for an injured worker in rehabilitation is designed to replace two-thirds of lost earnings, but has a maximum weekly amount of $246 per week. Total costs for rehabilitation are limited to $16,000 for workers injured on or after January 1, 1994.7

Department of Veterans Affairs Programs. Disability compensation is available to veterans who are discharged honorably and who have experienced or aggravated a disabling injury or disease during active military service. Veterans who have non-service related disabilities, or who are age 65 or older, are also eligible to receive a veteran's pension. Veteran's disability compensation is paid regardless of work activity.8