Maine Medical Center

Benefits Counseling Services

Work Incentives are special rules that apply when a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, DWB, 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.

MaineHealth Vocational Services Portland has Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWICs) that help Maine people understand how working affects their Social Security disability and other public benefits. This service is provided at no cost to Maine residents 14 or older who receive Social Security disability benefits, are considering or currently working, and have questions about how working impacts benefits. This service is made possible through funding from the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and the Social Security Administration.

Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWIC)

Paul Connair, CWIC
Region: Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford Counties, plus Bridgton

Paul has lived and worked in Portland since 2003. He initially joined DVS as an Employment Specialist in 2013 to work for the grant-funded ASPIRE Vocational Assessment Project. When the grant ended in 2016, Paul left briefly but came back as a CWIC in 2017. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in theology from Gordon College in 2001. He is passionate about seeing people live their best life and work in a career they love. When he is not working, Paul enjoys reading and running as well as listening to and playing music.

Kate Hamlin, CWIC
Region: Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties 

Kate joined MMC Vocational Services as a CWIC in 2020. Prior to joining DVS, she served as a healthcare representative and patient advocate within the Maine Medical Center community for seven years. She has a passion for advocacy and working with people.

Kate was born and raised in Milo, Maine and has been in Portland since 2010. She has a degree in both English and Political Science from the University of Maine at Orono. In her free time she enjoys watching her three nieces grow up, enjoying time with friends and family as well as reading.

Noreen Hutcherson, CWIC
Region: York County and Ticket to Work Help Line 

Noreen joined MMC Vocational Services in 2007 as an administrative specialist with a desire to help individuals with disabilities achieve their employment goals. In 2017, Noreen was promoted to Information and Referral CWIC, and promoted again to CWIC in 2020. In her role, she serves as the primary contact for beneficiaries referred to Benefits Counseling Services by the Ticket to Work Help Line. 

Noreen is proud to be a native Mainer with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Southern Maine. When not working, Noreen enjoys spending time with her family and her dog. 

Marita Leach, CWIC
Region: Kennebec and Somerset Counties 

Marita, an attorney by trade, joined MMC Department of Vocational Services as a CWIC in 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. 

Diane Luce, CWIC
Region: Cumberland County, excluding Bridgton & Brunswick

Diane Luce joined MMC as a CWIC in 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 2009.

Julianne Zaharis, CWIC
Region: Aroostook, Hancock, Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc (plus Brunswick), Waldo and Washington Counties

Julianne Zaharis joined Maine Medical Center's Department of Vocational Services as a CWIC in 2020. Julianne is a Licensed Social Worker. Prior to joining the Benefits Counseling Services team, she worked as a direct care provider in the home and community setting as an intensive clinical care manager. Julianne earned a Master's degree in Social Work from Boston University, as well as a double-major Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Social Sciences. Julianne is a highly passionate advocate, who enjoys working with individuals to support personal empowerment and goal-driven achievements.

Other Staff

Vanessa Lee
Data & Intake Specialist

Vanessa joined the Vocational Services department in November 2021 as a Data and Intake Specialist. In this role, she is responsible for processing referrals within the Benefits Counseling Services department as well as assisting with quality assurance for the team.

Vanessa graduated in 2018 with a BA in Psychology and double minor in Spanish and Business Administration. Shortly after graduating, Vanessa began working at Unum as a Short Term Disability Specialist in the Benefits department. She then transitioned into a Life Event Specialist–handing both short term disability claims and family medical leave requests.

In her free time, Vanessa enjoys spending time outdoors, traveling, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. 

Stephanie Desrochers
BCS Program Manager

Stephanie, a Licensed Social Worker, joined MMC’s Department of Vocational Services as a CWIC 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. Stephanie was promoted to Program Coordinator in 2014 and Program Manager in 2021 for Benefits Counseling Services.

Stephanie has a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management from the USM Muskie School of Public Service and a Bachelor of Arts 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.

Jennifer Kimble

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.


Benefits Counseling Services (BCS) Referrals

View our BCS referral packet to request services.

Requesting Services

To request individualized benefits counseling services from a Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC), 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.

MaineHealth Vocational Services Portland
Attn: BCS Project Specialist
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 benefits you receive from Social Security; without the forms we cannot give you the most accurate information. Our 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.

Services Provided

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.

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. 

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. 

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. Register for an upcoming webinar or view a previously recorded WISE event.

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 $2,220 a month, capped at $8,950 a year in 2023). 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.

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.

Join Our Mailing List

Join our mailing list to receive email updates about benefits counseling services from MaineHealth Vocational Services Portland.