Since combining operations with Crossroads Diversified Services, PRIDE Industries’ capacity to serve people with mental health disabilities has markedly increased. What’s more, we now have in-house talent specializing in employees who want to work while on SSI or SSDI.
*SSI: Supplemental Security Income
*SSDI: Social Security Disability Insurance
Dee Gavaldon Answers the Question, “Can I Work While on SSI or SSDI?”
Meet Dee Gavaldon, PRIDE Industries Employment Services Manager. Gavaldon joined us in 2020, after 26 years at Crossroads. She brings a wealth of experience in the area of employee benefits planning. Before working at Crossroads, she was the benefits planner for six years at Resources for Independent Living in Sacramento, where she was the first work incentives specialist in the agency’s history. Later, at Crossroads, she became an expert in Social Security work incentives for employed beneficiaries. With this expertise, she has secured and managed the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Cooperative Agreement grant since 2007. This grant is awarded on five-year cycles by The Social Security Administration’s Office of Employment Supports.
But, what exactly, is The Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Program (WIPA)?
The WIPA program is a service designed to help Social Security beneficiaries make informed choices about their employment goals. Often, these are people who want to work but fear that, in so doing, they will sacrifice all benefit income.
“That’s not the case,” said Gavaldon. “There are ways to work and continue to receive benefits.”
And those benefits aren’t just monetary.
“It’s also about self-esteem,” Gavaldon says. “People tend to feel better about themselves when they’re employed and contributing to society.”
Gavaldon and her team serve people of all abilities. Every year, they help about 300 individuals experience the sense of purpose that comes with meaningful employment, either by finding new work or continuing in their current jobs. Gavaldon has discovered that people who work while on SSI and SSDI report a boost in confidence, and some clients have thanked her team for helping to make this possible.
WIPA and Beyond: The Intricacies of Working While on SSI and SSDI
In addition to WIPA, Gavaldon is also experienced in managing contracts from various funding sources, including the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Ticket to Work (TTW), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). She has also worked closely with diverse groups, including adults with disabilities, dislocated workers, and youth. Though she does not carry a caseload in her current role, years of working one-on-one with clients continue to inform the services she provides today. Not only does she understand the intricacies of each program; she also understands how it will or won’t fit the needs of each population and, ultimately, each individual.
“It’s a complicated system but, somehow, it makes sense to me,” says Gavaldon. “And I also have an amazing team.”
PRIDE Industries Wins a WIPA Cooperative Agreement Grant
Gavaldon is part of a team led by Workforce Development Director Andrea Rogozinski and Employment Services Director Kim Speers. The three recently worked together with our proposal team and the Michael Ziegler PRIDE Industries Foundation to develop the application for a WIPA Cooperative Agreement grant.
WIPA grants are administered by the Social Security Administration’s Office of Employment Supports. It was this agency that recently awarded PRIDE Industries $289,800 every year for the next five years. Because of this grant, Gavaldon and her team will be able to continue their important work: maintaining employment for people with disabilities—including those receiving SSI and SSDI.
Making an Impact Locally and Nationally
Although Gavaldon has been in her current role for only one year, PRIDE Industries and those we serve are already benefitting from her expertise. In addition to showing her clients how to work without losing benefits, she and her team have saved some clients potentially thousands of dollars in erroneous Social-Security-related overpayments. And, besides the impact she’s made locally, her expertise was recently recognized at the national level. In May, she was appointed to the Board of the National Association of Benefits and Work Incentives Specialists—yet another experience that will inform what she brings to PRIDE Industries and those we serve.
As she enters the 27th year of her career, Dee Gavaldon continues to help people of all abilities fulfill their employment potential and build the life they want. The people that Gavaldon has helped are grateful to her, and she is heartened to be here at PRIDE Industries.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Gavaldon concludes. “And it’s good to know that the team—Christa Reed, Kaitlin Schefer, and the newest members, Corina Powell and Sean Sullivan, and I—are continuing to make a difference.”