Benefits Counseling Services

Work Incentives are special rules that apply when a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, DWD, CDB) beneficiary or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient returns to work. There are many different types of work incentives that may protect your eligibility for benefits including MaineCare or Medicare, and that may make you eligible for funding to advance your career. The rules are different depending on whether you receive SSI or Social Security for disability. If you receive both benefits, both sets of rules apply.

Requesting Services

To request individualized Benefits Counseling services from a Community Work Incentives Coordinator, please complete our BCS Referral Packet, then print, sign, and send to us. Call us at 1-888-208-8700 if you have trouble accessing the referral packet or do not have access to a printer so we can mail the paperwork to you. Please mail or fax your completed referral to the address below.

Vocational Services

Attn: BCS Project Specialist
Maine Medical Center
22 Bramhall Street
Portland, ME 04102
Fax: (207) 662-6789

You will hear back from us to coordinate an appointment as soon as possible after we receive and process these forms. The forms allow us to verify any status you have with the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services and the benefits you receive from Social Security; without the forms we cannot give you the most accurate information.

Maine Medical Center's Benefits Counseling Services are provided statewide. Every effort is made to provide in-person, community-based services. Sometimes due to high demand for service and the large geographic area, a combination of mail, telephone, and videoconferencing services may be used.

What Types of Services Are Provided?

A. Work Incentives Planning:

Tell us your questions about working and benefits and we will talk with you about what work incentives are available to you. When you have a financial goal, either projected or actual, we will develop a written report for you. This report will explain your current benefits and outline a plan describing how to use work incentives.

We can also assist you in identifying services that you might need along the way and connect you with resources to assist you in finding or maintaining your employment goal.

B. Work Incentives Assistance:

Your CWIC can help answer questions about benefits even after you return to work. We are here to help you to understand how to report your income, how to use the work incentives and what resources may be available to you while working. When you begin working or your income from work increases, we are also available to assist you in considering your health care coverage options and will talk with you about how work incentives can be used over time. 

C. Information and Referral:

With your permission, we will also work with other service providers to make sure you get the help you need to achieve employment success. In the event that you need protection and advocacy services, we can help you connect with these services as well. Click here to see success stories of individuals with disabilities who have found work and are enjoying their new independence.

You might meet a CWIC at a workshop or a meeting in your community. In these settings, CWICs answer questions about general work-related Social Security rules and incentives and can refer you to related services for which you may be eligible. These sessions are offered statewide as requested and as resources allow.

Also available directly from the Social Security Administration are Work Incentive Seminar Event (WISE) webinars offered monthly. Click here to register for an upcoming webinar or view a previously recorded WISE event.

Information for Transition-Aged Youth With Disabilities

Social Security defines transition-aged youth as individuals aged 14-25 who are making the transition from school to work and/or further education. Transition-aged youth with disabilities face unique challenges in transitioning from school to work, and some may even think working is not part of their future.

Successful entry into the workforce can greatly enhance a person’s long-term earnings potential and quality of life. Summer jobs, internships and volunteer work can help young people develop job stills, soft skills (learning how to present well and interact effectively with others), gain connections with employers for future job searches, and learn about career choices. Linking knowledge gained at the worksite with a planned program of study increases school attendance and engagement, decreases dropout rates and even makes it more likely that a student will attend college.

Many students under age 22 can work without their SSI (Supplemental Security Income) being affected (up to $1,820 a month, capped at $7,350 in 2018). Otherwise their SSI would be reduced about $1 for every $2 they earn. This is called the Student Earned Income Exclusion. A PASS plan may also help you save money for your job goal.

If you get Childhood Disability Benefits other work incentives may be available. For more information download our Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility fact sheets.

Why Is This Offered by Maine Medical Center?

Maine Medical Center (MMC) has a thirty-year history of providing employment services to people with disabilities. When the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 authorized the creation of Benefits Planning, Assistance and Outreach (BPAO) programs across the country, MMC Department of Vocational Services (DVS) recognized the importance of providing "benefits counseling" services to people with disabilities receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare and MaineCare. This information is critical to help people make informed decisions about their benefits when considering a return to work.

MMC DVS applied for and was awarded the BPAO cooperative agreement from the Social Security Administration to provide this service to the State of Maine from 2001-2006. From 2006-2012 continued services were possible through the awarding of SSA's Work Incentives Planning and Assistance cooperative agreement to MMC. Although SSA WIPA funding ended in July 2012, continued services were made possible through utilization of other federal funding and strong state support. In September 2013 SSA's Work Incentives Planning and Assistance cooperative agreement was again awarded to MMC DVS.


 

Work & Benefits Navigator Training

Join a session to learn what “Work and Benefits Navigation” means, and how you can be an employment champion for your clients and your agency.

Learn More

Our Team

Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWIC)

Paul Connair, CWIC

Region*: Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin

Paul was born and raised in southwestern New Hampshire.  He has lived and worked in Portland since 2003. He initially joined DVS as an Employment Specialist in December 2013 to work for the grant-funded ASPIRE Vocational Assessment Project.  When the grant ended in August of 2016, Paul left briefly but came back as a CWIC in February of 2017.  He earned his B.A. in theology from Gordon College in 2001 and hopes to earn his MSW by 2029.  He is passionate about seeing people live their best life and work in a career they love.  When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Carlie, and 2 dogs, Luther and Reesa.  

Marissa Gianino, CWIC

Regions*: Knox,York and Cumberland Counties
(207) 662-4330

Marissa joined Vocational Services in 2015 to satisfy her passion to empower people and influence social justice issues. Marissa graduated from University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2015 with an M.A. in Community Psychology and from University of Southern Maine in 2012 with a B.A. in Psychology and a B.A. in Communication.

Marita Leach, CWIC 

Region*: Kennebec

Marita, an attorney by trade, joined MMC Department of Vocational Services as a Community Work Incentives Coordinator in September 2016. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 2008 with a double major in Political Science and Psychology. Marita earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of Maine School of Law in 2011. She came to MMC with 5 years of experience working for a Social Security Disability Law Firm where she specialized in legal writing and research.    

In her spare time, Marita enjoys spending time with her friends and family, traveling, reading, listening to podcasts, yoga, spin class, scrapbooking, and going to concerts.    

Diane Luce, CWIC

Regions*: Cumberland County
(207) 662-6746

Diane Luce joined the WIPA team at MMC in January 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine. Diane began her career as an In-Home Counselor in the Family Builders Program through the Aroostook Mental Health Center, working as a member of a 2-person team to provide short-term intensive services to families in crisis. During this time she also taught Parenting Effectiveness Training (PET) classes and worked closely with area agencies and school systems to coordinate services. Diane has also provided respite care services to families who have children with special needs.

Diane also worked for a number of years in the affordable housing industry as a Site Manager and Program Auditor. She wrote the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Compliance Manual for a nationally known and recognized property management company. During this time she also provided training to new staff, assisted the elderly and people with disabilities in securing housing and services, and received certification as an Occupancy Specialist, Senior Housing Specialist and Certified Assisted Housing Manager. Diane completed the Social Security Administration's required Community Work Incentives Coordinator training in February 2009.

Ken Nelson, CWIC

Regions*: Penobscot, Piscataquis Counties
(207) 662-6067

Ken joined the MMC Benefits Planning, Assistance and Outreach team and completed BPAO training by Cornell University for the Social Security Administration in 2005. In addition, Ken also obtained Community Work Incentives Coordinator certification in May 2008. Ken earned his Bachelor's Degree in history from the University of Maine - Machias.

Before arriving at MMC, he was a Claims Representative for the Social Security Administration. Prior to that, he worked as a Senate Staff Assistant for Senator Bill Cohen and for Senator Susan Collins for 9 years specializing in Immigration, State Department and Social Security issues. Ken is also the owner/operator of cottages on Lovejoy Pond in central Maine, a business that has been in his family for 60 years.

*Other Regions Served:
We serve the entire State of Maine.
Aroostook, Hancock, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo and Washington Counties are all served on a rotating basis by our expert team of CWICs.

Director

Jennifer Kimble

(207) 662-4895

Jennifer, a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, has worked in the field of supported employment since 1996. After obtaining her Master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Boston University, she worked as a clubhouse worker, supported employment and education specialist, and job developer. Recognizing the importance of housing assistance for people with disabilities, she then worked for three years in the field of public housing, managing self-sufficiency programs at a nonprofit housing agency.

Jennifer has managed Benefits Counseling Services at MMC's Department of Vocational Services since 2003. She has been trained in Benefits Planning by Cornell University and is a member of the Maine State Workforce Investment Board's Commission on Disability and Employment.

BCS Program Coordinator

Stephanie Desrochers

(207) 662-6748

Stephanie, a Licensed Social Worker, joined MMC Department of Vocational Services as a Community Work Incentives Coordinator in 2007. She completed the Social Security Administration's required Work Incentives Planning and Assistance training and developed a strong knowledge of work-related MaineCare rules and policy for people with disabilities. In 2014, Stephanie was promoted to Benefits Counseling Program Coordinator, taking on a quality assurance role on the team. 

Stephanie has a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management from the USM Muskie School of Public Service and a B.A. in Social Work from the University of New Hampshire. After graduating from UNH, Stephanie served two years in the AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a volunteer program that sends teams of young adults around the United States to communities in need. Following NCCC, she spent two years developing and coordinating volunteer opportunities for students at Lafayette College.

Information & Referral CWIC

Noreen Hutcherson

(207) 662-4757

Noreen joined MMC Vocational Services in 2007 working first as an Administrative Associate supporting the work of Employment Specialists, then in September of 2011 joined the Benefits Counseling Team as the BCS Project Specialist.  In February of 2017 Noreen became the Information & Referral CWIC. Noreen is the first point of contact for all new BCS clients and offers benefit counseling services to individuals who are not working but considering employment.  Born and raised in Portland, Noreen has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and enjoys helping individuals achieve their goals.

Fact Sheets