"You are here!" in the government benefits maze
I was in the mall with my son recently, trying to remember which of the dozen sports shoe stores had the one pair of Mom-would-need-a-second-job-to-pay-for, “high-tech” shoes that will make him run faster than a 10-year-old Usain Bolt and jump higher than a pre-teen Michael Jordan. Malls bring on my mazeophobia. Yes, that is a real term—the fear of getting, or being lost. Luckily, most malls, including my local one, have directories that include maps with “You are here” symbols. Typically, the map is huge and the symbols are pretty small, but once you discover “You are here”, you can use the large anchor stores along with color and number coding to plot your course. We did find the store—it was adult sizes only—so we used another “You are here” map to find KidsFootLocker.
With my terrible sense of direction, I’m not sure how I got anywhere before my smartphone. Even though it gets some things wrong, I am a big fan of my Google maps. Seeing yourself as that little, blue moving dot on the map means having your own “You are here” directory for the geographic aspects of life. I mostly get to where I need to be and mostly on time. I have far less moments of pure “where the @*&^% AM I”, than when I had to rely on a paper map that had everything I needed to know except my current location.
Pretty much anyone who has been on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare disability benefits for any length of time knows that when your circumstances change—your health or support needs improve or worsen, or you increase or decrease your other earnings—you may be in danger of losing eligibility for one type of benefits and/or approaching eligibility for another type of benefit. The thing is, none of the government agencies give you a warning. You will not get a letter in the mail or a text alert that says: “You have used up eight out of nine of your trial work months.” Or: “The paystubs you mailed in got ‘filed’ in someone’s bottom drawer, and we’re discontinuing your Medicaid until we find them.” Nope. You just get a cryptically worded letter, AFTER the fact, letting you know that some benefit or other HAS been terminated. That’s like the GPS girl’s voice going radio silent on you for the whole trip only to reengage with: “You just passed your exit. Next exit in 100 miles.” Except that at least your GPS function will reroute you automatically. The letter from Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare only point out the problem, however. They don’t tell you the way forward.
Form SSA-3288, Consent for Release of Information, can tell you “You are here” within the maze of government benefits. This form is also known as a Benefits Planning Query or BPQY. As the beneficiary, you can either submit the form yourself and have the information released only to you, or you can submit it or have another submit it with the information released to another person or entity, for example, your representative payee or a case manager from the agency that provides support to you. You put your information and the information of the recipient at the top of the form. You also have to state a reason why you want the information released. This can be something like: “Need to affirm continued eligibility for cash benefits and services” or “Want to determine eligibility for Ticket-to-Work.”
After you have explained the rationale behind your request, the form presents you with a list of check boxes. These below are the records and information that you can request:
Verification of Social Security Number
Current monthly Social Security Benefit amount
Current monthly Supplemental Security payment amount
My benefit or payment amounts from date _______ to date _______
My Medicare entitlement from date ______ to date ______
Medical records from my claims folder(s) from date ______ to date ______
Complete medical records from my claims folder(s)
Other records from my files.
The directions for this last check box say, specifically, that the SSA will not honor requests for “all records”. However, this is the place where you can write in requests such as:
Number of Trial Work Months used. The accumulation of Trial Work Months is a first step on the path to getting off benefits, so it is important to know when you accrue them.
SSI and SSDI work activities and earnings. This will let you know what Social Security thinks you are earning.
All Work Incentive data on SSA’s records. If you have requested to deduct Impairment Related Work Expenses as an example, this will let you know if they are being properly recorded.
All employment supports data on SSA’s records. This will let you know if you have accessed Ticket to Work features in the past.
Medicaid eligibility status. Note that the report will only return eligibility status that is based on a Social Security benefit and not, for example, on your state’s Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare).
Next blog, I will talk a little bit about the information that comes back in the report itself. Unlike your GPS or a mall map, you may need a professional to help you plot your course forward from your BPQY report. However, the report will tell you a lot about the exact nature of the benefits you have gotten in the past and are currently receiving, whether there may be other benefits for which you are eligible, but which you are not receiving as well as whether you have, voluntarily or involuntarily, taken any steps in the process of getting off any of your benefits. In other words, your BYPQ tells you: “You are here” within the maze of government benefits.