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Brian Therrien: Good day, this is Brain Therrien and I’m here with Jim Troxell. Jim thanks for joining us today and I look forward to having a conversation with you about the workWORLD project and how it could benefit those that are out there considering going back to work and having an interest in keeping their Social Security benefits and maximizing everything. So, thanks for taking the time to join us today, Jim.
Jim Troxell: Thank you Brian.
Brian Therrien: Great. What I’d like to learn for everybody out there that is interested in this topic is; first of all, a little bit about your background and your work for 30+ years and this disability area. Tell us what you’ve done and how it’s all kind of led up to this project.
Jim Troxell: Well, I do have about thirty years of experience in working with disability and employment programs and advocacy. I started with direct services, actual vocational training and placement activities and interacted with the business community in job development to help people with disabilities and employers to find each other and develop successful relationships in terms of job findings and job success. I’ve done, from there; I’ve gone on to program development and project management on a community base, as well as national contact level. So, I’ve done a variety of things with different populations of individuals with disabilities and most recently, I’ve got involved with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Employment Support Institute. I’ve been with CSI for about six and a half years. Our focus is on bringing the best of business technology applications to disability and employment support. So that people with disabilities can better understand the policies that affect them and understand their opportunities for becoming more independent through employment.
Brian Therrien: Interesting. Explain to everybody out there, including myself, help me understand why Virginia Commonwealth would be involved in a movement like this?
Jim Troxell: Well, VCU, has a long tradition of being, I think at the vanguard of disability program development and services and research. In fact, VCU was one of the institutions that was sort of involved with the design and development of supportive employment as a strategy for helping people, with severe disabilities, be successful in employment. That strategy has really swept the nation and is applied uniformly around the country now. DSI was established in the early 90’s with the specific purpose of doing something new to help people that are receiving disability benefits be more successful with employment, by understanding the work incentives that are available and the options that they have for not losing their essential benefits while carving paths toward greater independence. So, the institutions had a long history of being at the forefront of research and program development in this area.
Brian Therrien: So, I see two things here. I want to make sure that I have this right. VCU has a strategy that has become prominent in the marketplace for helping disabled job seekers find employers and be successful at obtaining a job. Is that correct?
Jim Troxell: Right, and getting the support that they need so that they can be successful on the job and that’s the supportive employment model which is really a common strategy now that is used everywhere.
Brian Therrien: Okay. So that’s one and the second part of that, which is actually part of that, would be the workWORLD project, correct?
Jim Troxell: Right, and that’s an evolution that occurred well after, before the employment was established and workWORLD really is the only use of business technology application and software application to help people navigate through all of the difficult policies and programs that may affect them. That might be available to them, so that they can be more successful with their employment.
Brian Therrien: Okay, let’s do a couple things if we could Jim. If we could spend a few minutes and hit the highlights of the strategy, of this strategy. I don’t even know what it’s called at this point. So that people understand, what the strategy is and then perhaps how they could learn about it and then we could move on and discuss the workWORLD project a bit more.
Jim Troxell: Okay.
Brian Therrien: Can we do that?
Jim Troxell: Yes, sure.
Brian Therrien: Great. So let’s start with the strategy. Are there some, first of all, what’s it called?
Jim Troxell: Well, workWORLD is business support software. What it does, first of all, it is anchored by a very comprehensive and sophisticated help information system. That’s an electronic encyclopaedia disability program and policy information. And, that particular facet of the software is available as a stand-alone application. So that people could go to it and look up various definitions, they need to learn about the different policies or race. All kinds of thing that might pertain to their particular situation. But the real power of the software is that individuals can enter information about their current situation relative to the benefits they receive, their employment circumstances, various demographic factors. Like whether they live alone, whether there are children involved all kinds of variables affecting the individual and after that current situation is established, the software generates outputs. Those outputs provide guidance in the form of recommendations or alerts, suggesting to people what they could do. What they might want to explore as alternatives to their current situation. And of course people then could get things in line themselves that they would like to explore. They can use the software then to model alternatives. They can go from their current situation to establishing new situation and model those to see what the impact of their potential decision would be. How that would impact their benefits, their eligibility benefits, the level of cash benefits that they would receive. How that would affect their net earnings. So those kinds of outputs are produced as people model new alternatives and so the software is just a decision support vehicle. It gives people the information they need to make informed choices and good decision about where they might like to go instead of where they are right now.
Brian Therrien: Okay. Let me see if I understand it at this point. So, when you say software, this is something that somebody can put on their own computer at home.
Jim Troxell: That’s right.
Brian Therrien: Okay, so they download it or they have a disk or how does that work?
Jim Troxell: We provide disks.
Brian Therrien: Okay.
Jim Troxell: We update the software about four times a year because policies and program data changes regularly across the many different programs that affect everybody with disabilities. So we provide disks and people install the programs from disk and as they get updates, they are able to update the software readily because of the update disk will only update those facets of the program that needs to be updated. There’s no program uninstall reinstall process that is required.
Brian Therrien: Okay. So, this is something that once it’s on the home computer, somebody can, you know, go in and setup their current criteria, their family situation, how much money they are going to make or want to make and how it would affect their benefits and it would really develop and entire picture for them like income verse benefit affect. Correct?
Jim Troxell: That’s correct.
Brian Therrien: Okay.
Jim Troxell: The software produces outputs and numerical results, text results and all kinds of different graphics depiction of the various scenarios that someone might enter into the software.
Brian Therrien: Now, I do a fair amount of work on the computer, but I do not profess to be an expert at using the computer or software, and my thought is here; is it easy to use? It sounds like a wonderful tool, but I mean, it is simple, good directions, easy to get around? How can somebody find out about that?
Jim Troxell: Well, the one thing, there are two things. One thing is that we do have a tutorial built into the software.
Brian Therrien: Oh good.
Jim Troxell: So, when people get the software they can actually go to the help system and index into the tutorial. They can run a tutorial that gives examples and tells them how to do data entry. The help system is full of topics, not only about the program and policy details, but it also has help topics on how to navigate in the software. How to enter data. How to create of new situations. How to read the results. All of the different facets of using the software are explained in the help systems and in the tutorials. The second thing is that our website also has educational tools, including tutorials, example case profiles. We have a training video that you can view or listen to.
Brian Therrien: Excellent.
Jim Troxell: So all those resources are available.
Brian Therrien: Okay, now if somebody didn’t have this workWORLD software, how would they get the answers? You know, if your family changes. This is just living life, there’s changes all the time. How do they get the info?
Jim Troxell: Well, a couple things help people gather the information that they need for their current situation. Of course, many of the questions people can answer with confidence with regard to their living situation and their life. They may not have the information or the knowledge of the programs that are affecting them. They might not get some information about their status, as it’s stored in the Social Security Administration’s database. So, one of the resources that is available for people is what is called a benefits planning query. This is a report that people can request. It’s free of charge. They can request it as often as they like. If they have been, or are recipients of Supplemental Security Income or social security disability insurance, they can request a benefits planning query from Social Security and that report is provided to them and it provides all kinds of information about the details that they might need in any particular situation.
Brian Therrien: Okay and this is something that is available like in an online form from somewhere out there in the internet.
Jim Troxell: Actually, they are generated from Social Security but the information about how to get it and what’s included in such reports and how you could authorize somebody else to get one of the reports on your behalf - All of that information is explained in our Help system.
Brian Therrien: Oh. Good.
Jim Troxell: Located in the workWORLD system, with links, including hyper-links to the benefits planning query website that Social Security maintains so that people can learn about it and make their request online and view all the things that they need to do to get that.
Brian Therrien: Okay, so workWORLD is a separate company entity from Social Security?
Jim Troxell: Yes.
Brian Therrien: Tell us how that works. Is it supported? What connection, is there any connection?
Jim Troxell: Well, maybe a little history would help.
Brian Therrien: Sure.
Jim Troxell: We started in the late eighties as a relatively simple spreadsheet tool and then created a DOS based stand-alone application in the early nineties, which we called Career Calc and the Social Security Administration learned about it and of course, we were promoting the possibilities of a tool like this. We began to interact with the Social Security Administration and they funded us to turn this Career Calc instrument into a policy analysis tool. Then, finally a personal analysis tool like we have been talking about. We had funding from Social Security Administration in the late nineties and into the 2000’s to further develop the software into the basic product that we have now. We’ve also been working with individual states to further customize the software for their purposes. So, we have some support the Social Security Administration, we’ve had a relationship with them. But, we also have other funding sources and other relationships at the state level to develop the software.
Brian Therrien: Okay, very nice. So, I see that the tie in there, I guess that one of the things, if I’m somebody that is going to consider using this and putting myself in the user side. Accuracy, I understand that you do updates and there’s got to be some way, is this 100% accurate or are there guarantees? Or how does that work, Jim?
Jim Troxell: Well, we use the prime sources from the various program and policy areas of the Social Security Administration and other agencies that provide benefits and programs support to people with disabilities. We follow the changes using the prime source materials that are generated by those agencies, by those programs and we integrate those things into our Health Systems format and into the software on a regular basis. One of the things that we always say Brian, it’s right at the front end of getting started in workWORLD is that we do advise people to always consult with Social Security Administration staff and staff of any other agency that they’re working with to check their workWORLD workup. To check the inputs, to check the outputs and to make sure that they are indeed accurate, but we work hard to be accurate in the first place. Sometimes between, for example, sometimes between version updates, if there’s a few months between version updates, there may be some policy or some rate change that occurs in the interim time, between the current version and version updates that isn’t included in workWORLD. So that’s why we always encourage people to have their workup checked by the cognoscente authorities in any agency before they proceed with any actual plans of action.
Brian Therrien: Okay.
Jim Troxell: The accuracy of the software is really focused on SSI, SSDI, Section 8 housing and food stamps data and calculations and for the states that we’re customizing for, we ensure accuracy with the programs that we’re customizing for, like state Medicaid or temporary assistance for needy families or other state programs.
Brian Therrien: Okay, excellent. Now, here’s the big question. It sounds like a fantastic tool. If somebody was to get the whole picture and make sure that they know what working or not working is going to do for them. I certainly see the value. How does somebody get it? How do you get the workWORLD Software onto your computer? Tell us about that.
Jim Troxell: You go to our website and at our website; we have a link on how to get workWORLD. From that link, people can read about those states that we have done some customizing, for. And some cases, in getting the software when you are a resident of one of those states is a different procedure then if your not in one of those customized states. But it is a pretty simply procedure, if you go to the how to get workWORLD link from our main page and then follow the instructions there depending on where you live and go to the workWORLD order page and place an order. You can pay for the software using a credit card and you can actually buy the complete software package or you can just buy the stand-alone help system that I talked about.
Brian Therrien: Mmhmm.
Jim Troxell: When you purchase the software, we fulfill the order quickly, send you the disk and send you the installation instructions sheets. Once you buy that software, then you’re entitled to a one-year automatic subscription for all of the softwares updates that occur within one year of purchase.
Brian Therrien: Okay. All of this, the accessibility and what states have special programs associated with it and what states do not and the pricing and all of that is on your website. Is that correct?
Jim Troxell: That is correct.
Brian Therrien: Okay. That’s good.
Jim Troxell: Right.
Brian Therrien: Okay good. Let’s move on a little bit from, not so much totally away from workWORLD, but for people that are out there that come to us and they have a common question. They want to know how much money can I earn and not affect my benefits. Now they can go through and calculate that with workWORLD and figure it all out based on what you have told me. Correct?
Jim Troxell: Yes. It’s really important that people use a tool like workWORLD to do this kind of assessment because there’s a lot of, I guess I would say, myths and misunderstanding. The rounding, there’s the idea about earning ceilings and limitations on earnings.
Brian Therrien: Yes. Exactly. There is a concern, a fear, that if I start earning money then my benefits are going to become in jeopardy, so keep going, this is great.
Jim Troxell: Right. A lot of times people will have an idea in mind and they might have heard of some others and almost become sort of an institutionalized understanding on the street, that for example, don’t make more then $500 a month, because if you make more the $500 a month, you’ll lose eligibility for your Social Security benefits. You’ll loose your eligibility for your health care covered. And people will, stay true to that standard that they understand to be the case. When in fact, it may be possible to earn a great deal more money then that, in the first place, before anybody’s benefits, eligibility or benefit levels would be affected. Especially, if people use the work incentive that is available. There is a lot of work incentive available that permit people to work and improve their earnings without jeopardizing their eligibility for benefits. In fact, creates systems of reward for people to become less dependant on a gradual basis, on the benefits.
Brian Therrien: How do people learn about these programs? Would one of them be the Ticket To Work Program?
Jim Troxell: Well, the Ticket To Work Program includes a number of new program features, a number of new kinds of benefits that definitely give people a foot up. There are also a number of work incentives that have been around for many years that, through the Ticket To Work Program, we’re trying to encourage people to take advantage of these because they’ve been under utilized, even though they’ve been available. The way that people can learn about these programs using workWORLD is by entering their current situation data into the software and then the software, because of their current situation profile, will recognize that they may be eligible for one of these work incentives and will inform people of that. So, someone might say; Yes, I am working. I am working at such and such an earnings level every month. I am receiving Social Security benefits and the question will come up; do you have any impairment related to work incentive? If the individual say yes, and then the software will say, are you claiming any of these work expenses in the work incentive work impairment related matters? If the person says no, the software will generate a text output that advises them, how much of their impairment related incentive they could claim under one of these earning impairment related work expense programs. So the software will recognize possibilities for people to use work incentives and tell them about that. And then, they can click directly from the software text output into our health system and it’ll explain the parameters of that policy and the procedures for making application and other kinds of details that someone would need to move forward with that recommendation. They can also model that possibility in their next situation column. So someone could say; oh, okay I could put $180 per month into an impairment related work expense. I’ll do that in the next column and see what the impact of that decision would have on my income, on my eligibility for benefits, etc.
Brian Therrien: So…
Jim Troxell: workWORLD informs people of the possibilities.
Brian Therrien: So, what I’m hearing is there is a variety of little secret underutilized programs that are out there. That a lot of people could qualify for, but they don’t know about them. With workWORLD, it’s going to spot these automatically for them. It could be something as simple as normal expenses that they are paying out of the pocket, could be now a tax deduction. Is that what I’m hearing?
Jim Troxell: They could be not considered, they could be not considered as income, for example, certain things could be disallowed or disregarded when the consideration of countable income is made on an eligibility determination. It could be any variety of different things that will make it possible for people to continue to improve their earnings, improve their work experience without jeopardizing essential benefits.
Brian Therrien: Wow!
Jim Troxell: Many of them aren’t well known or well understood and generally, aren’t used in large numbers as work incentive.
Brian Therrien: That’s could be hundreds of dollars a month, right?
Jim Troxell: Easily.
Brian Therrien: Wow. Great. Thanks for sharing that with us. Here’s another question I have for you that is commonly asked. People say; why is my check always, well there are other words that are used, but I’ll say inaccurate for the sake of the interview. Why is it always inaccurate? Why don’t they get it right? Is there a way that somebody could use workWORLD to go in and with their profile, confirm the check that they have in their hand is indeed the accurate amount.
Jim Troxell: Yes, definitely. The reason for these sometimes inaccuracies, sometimes confusion about check amounts and things like that, is because there can be lag time between the reporting of earnings and the actually logging of that report into the earnings record. Things that would affect the level of benefits, with those kinds of variables that could be reported but aren’t actually shown in reality until sometime later. That can create some confusion. There is a problem generally with overpayment.
Brian Therrien: Oh, really.
Jim Troxell: Yeah, people can get into some difficulty with overpayment because they would have potentially done something, something would change in their income status or their family situation that would have a bearing on the way that their benefits were calculated. And if there’s a lag time or a failure to report and people are receiving checks at an amount that they’ve been accustomed to but something has changed that would cause that amount to be lower. People are still receiving the check at the higher level, they can get into an overpayment situation and the software can identify that issue immediately. If someone for example, goes into a workWORLD session and they have a check stub from the Social Security Administration and they’ve been receiving $800 a month and that’s verified on the check stub and they enter that value into workWORLD in addition to all the other variables that we talked about that is relative to a family situation earnings and the life. If that value is not correct, workWORLD will provide an alert immediately and say to the user, you have entered $800 as your monthly check level, you should be receiving $579 and if that’s that case, then that individual is being overpaid by over $200 a month every time that they get that $800 check. In fact, we’ve had users report that they’ve found that to happen with some degree of frequency, about 20% of those that use the software in one of our partner states, immediately found that there was a problem with the check level that they had and the software will intercept that and report on that immediately.
Brian Therrien: Wow. Well, That’s great. It takes all of the work out of it. One of the things that I’ve also learned is that there’s different levels of benefits, so I would expect from what you’ve shared with me that based on the person’s profile it will match them up with the optimum amount of benefits that they could receive. Is that a correct?
Jim Troxell: Right. It will read the individuals current situation profile and it will indicate the benefit levels that should be in place. If they are not what they should be, it will report that they are not what they should be and it will offer text recommendations to people on things that they might consider doing to use work incentive and to pursue employment, so that they can be less dependant on those benefits over time, in the long run.
Brian Therrien: Okay. Wow! Even if you sold this, which I know your price fluctuates, it depends on the state where everybody is. But even if you sold this for a couple hundred dollars for a license, what I see as a recap here is that the value is astonishing, it can make sure your check is accurate and really maximize your benefits and give you a clear understanding of what you can do in the work place and not affect your benefits. That to me, is what I’m hearing here. Have I missed any of the high points?
Jim Troxell: I think that that’s pretty well said.
Brian Therrien: Okay. Excellent, excellent. Now, in closing, are there any other tips that you could share with the job seekers that are out there, that might be available or you might know of through your experience or through VCU that you could enlighten us with?
Jim Troxell: I guess, the big message that I would send is; to not assume that what you are doing right now in terms of the benefits that you’re receiving. The work incentives that you’re using or maybe could use. The income that you have, to not assume that that’s where you need to stay parked. That there could be a number of possibilities available to you, to try new things and to improve your employment and career status, without necessarily jeopardizing your essential benefits. Using workWORLD is a key component for developing an understanding and finding a path toward some new possibilities.
Brian Therrien: Yeah, especially from what I see, there’s always changes to the system.
Jim Troxell: Right.
Brian Therrien: So, for somebody to stay on top of it, this is an absolute turnkey solution.
Jim Troxell: That’s right, because it’s so difficult for any individual that we have a great expertise throughout the country on programs and policies for people with disabilities, but it’s enormously difficult for any individual to stay up on all of this and that’s why we use a business technology application like this to support software. It is the power to manage all of these variables. It enables us to keep up with all of these variables in a way that an individual using policy manuals and memoranda, they just can’t keep up with it.
Brian Therrien: So even if they had them and they come back six months later, there might be something else that is available.
Jim Troxell: Absolutely.
Brian Therrien: Right. Yeah, very good. Well this has been fantastic. I want to thank you and on behalf of everybody that has an interest in this area about taking the time to enlighten us about the workWORLD project. So, any closing comments?
Jim Troxell: No, thanks Brian. I appreciate the opportunity to tell people about this and encourage them to check it out.
Brian Therrien: Okay. Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.
Jim Troxell: Alright. Thanks.