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RE:  BPQYs and Benefits Planning
Dear Representative/Senator XXXX:
The National Association of Benefits and Work Incentives Specialists (NABWIS) is an organization comprised of over 350 professionals providing benefits and work incentives counseling to individuals who receive Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Specifically, we serve those who are working or want to work. Many of our members work under the Social Security funded Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) project, authorized by congress as part of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 (H.R.1180).
While the Ticket to Work Act provided a much-needed boost to return to work efforts, its full intent is not being realized. It created a new profession of Benefits Planners. They are tasked with supporting a beneficiary's decision to increase their hours above Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA ) and SSI thresholds by providing information on how work will impact benefits, health insurance, and disposable income while also informing them about the availability of the different work incentives. Our members interact directly with beneficiaries, their families, and other service providers working with those families daily. Often, the  Benefits/Work Incentives Specialist most effectively supports a beneficiary's decision to return to work by directly addressing beneficiary fears and providing ongoing support as they navigate the path to employment. One of the most significant barriers to providing adequate employment support is the inability of the Benefits Specialist to obtain the Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) report from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in a timely manner.
The SSA BPQY is an invaluable tool used in the benefits planning process. Because it provides information on benefit type, the amount received, and work incentives a beneficiary has used, it's a crucial verification of benefits document essential to support a beneficiary's decision to return to work. Without proper verification of benefits before the benefits planning process starts, the Benefits/Work Incentives Specialist does not have all the information they need to provide services promptly. This decreases the likelihood that the client will return to work or sustain long-term employment.
There are currently over 2,000 providers engaged in benefits planning to support a beneficiary's return to work efforts. They face significant delays in receiving the BPQY, sometimes 60 days or longer. Other providers report that SSA has misplaced the signed SSA-3288s (consent for release of information), resulting in providers making multiple requests. These delays have negative and devastating consequences for beneficiaries. Many choose to delay returning to work, while others return without proper guidance and benefits planning. This has resulted in multiple instances of benefits overpayments, confusion, and frustration for providers and beneficiaries, all of which impede the beneficiary's ability to become self-supporting.
While some offices nationwide respond with substantial delays or, worse, not at all, others have provided benefits planners with inaccurate information. Social Security has recently developed a BPQY request cover sheet, which addresses specific issues with attaining the BPQY reports, such as clarifying that a Benefits Specialist requesting the BPQY for benefits planning purposes should not be charged for the request. However, their response to the issue has not been sufficient to address all the problems that Benefits Planners and beneficiaries face; specifically, it does nothing to address the lengthy or sometimes lack of response by the local SSA field offices to these requests. Outreach efforts to Area Work Incentive Coordinators (AWICs) have often provided a short-term solution to BPQY receipt issues. In many parts of the country, once an AWIC is reassigned to other efforts or retires and either returns or is replaced, many benefits planners are without support, making going to the AWICs for assistance not optimal.
When providers attempt to follow up on pending requests, calls to local offices go unanswered, unreturned, or are disconnected. Sometimes, the Claims Specialists aren't familiar with a BPQY or inform the planner that the SSA computer system is too old to produce the BPQY any longer.
What follows are some examples of extreme waits or failures to produce accurate and updated BPQYs from across the country:
  1. Reports received no longer show the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) status. When a provider questioned this, the response was, "it's a coding issue," and "you don't need that anyway, do you?"
  2. Outdated work incentives information on reports (i.e., trial work period shows zero months used when a client has used TWPs, sometimes having completed TWP).
  3. An estimated response rate of only 25% to requests for BPQYs made in January and February of 2022. All other requests have gone unanswered.
  4. Despite multiple requests, some providers never received a response to BPQY requests made as far back as November and December of 2021.
The fear of losing benefits while transitioning to employment is a primary reason beneficiaries do not attempt employment. Failure by SSA offices to provide a BPQY promptly results in beneficiaries deciding to discontinue work efforts, or even worse, quitting their jobs, due to fear and mistrust of the SSA's support and benefits planner's inability to provide timely answers and strategies to address their concerns. WIPA grantees cannot fulfill contractual obligations, given that verification of benefits is essential to their agreements with SSA. In addition to the implications of these delays on a beneficiary's return to work efforts, they also undermine their confidence in the entire SSA system.
NABWIS has attempted, for several months, to address these issues directly with SSA, but has not received a direct response to our concerns.  We’re asking for your assistance to ensure that SSA responds to BPQY requests within 30 days, provides staff training to ensure the accuracy of BPQYs created, creates clear lines of communication to follow up on questions related to BPQY requests and recognizes that the many Benefits/Work Incentives Planners who do not work for a WIPA project, Employment Network, or other, still need timely, accurate BPQYs to serve beneficiaries.