If you have a long-term disability that affects your ability to work, you may be eligible for a Social Security disability benefit such as ​​Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

These programs are designed to supplement the income of individuals who aren’t able to earn enough to live on, but they also include work incentive programs to encourage those who can work but may need extra support and resources to make it happen. The Ticket to Work program is the largest of these with over 300,000 people participating in the program each year.

3 Work Incentives of the Ticket to Work Program:

  • Trial Work Period
  • Expedited Reinstatement
  • Protection from Medical Continuing Disability Reviews

By taking advantage of this work program, Social Security disability beneficiaries can gain access to career counseling and employment services that can help them reenter the job market without fear of losing their much needed benefits.

What Is the Ticket to Work Program?

The Ticket to Work Program is run by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and provides services for disabled Americans who are currently receiving either ​​Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. The program is free and entirely voluntary – no one receiving benefits is forced to participate. To be eligible, you must be between the ages of 18 and 64 and be willing to work.

The program started in 1999 when it was signed into law via the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act. At the time, there was growing concern that disability beneficiaries didn’t have enough access to employment opportunities, and that very few of them were pursuing work. Congress enacted this legislation to encourage SSA beneficiaries to seek out meaningful employment and give them the tools and resources they need to find a new job. Since its inception, the program has helped 1.5 million people gain access to employment that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Although the majority of people with long-term disabilities won’t be able to reenter the workforce, many of them may be able to work in some capacity, but will likely need assistance. Through the program, people can achieve a higher standard of living by learning a new skill or trade and earning income instead of relying on government benefits.

The Ticket program offers assistance through its Employment Network (EN), a group of employment service providers who have partnered with the SSA to work with beneficiaries. Participants receive “tickets” that they can then use either with an EN or a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency in their state. Working with their provider, the program can then be tailored to the individual and target the vocational services and supports they need.

The main draw of this program is that it protects the individual’s benefits while they’re enrolled and seeking work. It even allows them to start working for a provisional period of time to see how they acclimate to their new job. While in the trial period, they can continue to receive their SSDI or SSI benefit as well as health care through Medicaid or Medicare. If after this time, it’s determined that the individual is unable to return to the workforce, they will have had no break in benefits. Many people with disabilities have to transfer into a different line of work. It’s not always certain if they’ll be able to sustain the job over a long period of time, so this provisional work period is essential to the program.

What Are Work Incentives?

There are three main Social Security work incentives that the Ticket program highlights: a trial work period, expedited reinstatement, and protection from medical continuing disability review. These three incentives make it possible for individuals who depend on their Social Security benefits to explore supported employment options safely.

Previously, if a disability beneficiary begins to work (or earns income in another way such as through inheritance, rents paid, or gifts), they risk losing their government benefits once their income exceeds a certain threshold. These incentives allow individuals to work and earn income for a temporary period without it affecting their monthly payments and without the added stress that period reviews bring.

3 Work Incentives of the Ticket to Work Program:

Trial Work Period

The Trial Work Period (TWP) is an essential element to the Ticket program because many people who depend on their monthly benefits are afraid to go back into a job if they’re not sure it will be sustainable. For example, imagine that Bob gets a part-time job developing non profit event ideas for a law firm. But if it doesn’t work out, Bob fears losing his already limited monthly income. With the TWP, Bob is given nine months to try out a new job and during this time he will keep receiving SSDI benefits, no matter how much income he is earning.

The only requirement is that you report your work activity to the SSA and that your disability still qualifies you as impaired. This option is only available to those receiving SSDI, not SSI benefits. If, after nine months, you’re able to continue with your new line of employment your monthly payments will then drop off since you’ll now be exceeding income guidelines for disability benefits.

Expedited Reinstatement

Expedited Reinstatement (ER) is available for both former SSDI and SSI disability recipients who have transitioned into the workforce, but whose disability has since made it unfeasible to continue working. The effects of a disability can wax and wane and it’s not uncommon to see symptoms of a disability dissipate, only to have them reappear later.

With the ER incentive, these individuals do not have to fill out a new application to have their Social Security disability reinstated, and instead will start receiving benefits immediately. These interim benefits will last for six months while the SSA reviews the case, after which time the SSA will either fully reinstate your benefits, or deny your case. If you do end up with a denial, you can always work with an attorney or a disability advocate to appeal the decision. 

Protection from Medical Continuing Disability Reviews

All recipients of Social Security Disability Benefits must periodically submit to a Continuing Disability Review (CDR), and this usually happens once every three years. In this redetermination process, the SSA will look at your income, resources, and living arrangements to decide if you’re still eligible to receive benefits. If a beneficiary decides to explore work options they may be concerned they’ll lose their benefits once the SSA sees that they’re earning income. However, if you’re currently working with a service provider through the Ticket program, you will have protection from these disability reviews for as long as you participate in the program, meaning you won’t have to produce any new documentation or evidence. This incentive is available to those with SSDI or SSI benefits.

Common Questions About the Ticket To Work Program:

How do I sign up?

If you are interested in this program, your first step is to call the Ticket to Work helpline at 1-866-968-7842 to confirm your eligibility. You can also speak with a representative and ask any questions you have about the program and they’ll provide you with a list of service providers and help you choose one that fits with your location, needs, and your career goals. You will then have to “assign” your Social Security ticket to this provider to start receiving assistance.

What are the advantages of the TTW program?

There are several benefits of participating in the Ticket program. First, you can explore your employment options without risking your current benefits. Second, you can choose your own service provider who then works collaboratively with you to develop an individual work plan based on your skill set, needs, and interests. Third, there is no penalty for trying. With the TWP, you can test out a new job for nine months and if it doesn’t work out nothing will change with your benefit structure.

What are my choices of service providers?

The Ticket program partners with Employment Networks, Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, and Workforce (WF) Employment Networks across the country to reach the maximum number of participants. These partners can be either public or private entities and may be an individual, group, or larger organization. Some of these are available only to local recipients, while others may serve an entire state or a national base such as the American Dream Employment Network (ADEN).

Can I change my service provider after I’ve already assigned my ticket?

Yes. If you end up working with an EN that you don’t feel is meeting your needs, you can submit a ticket in-assignment form to the SSA. Each beneficiary only gets one ticket, so it must be officially un-assigned before you can start working with a different provider. However, once you unassign your ticket, you must re-assign it within 90 days, or else you will lose your protections from the Medical Continuing Disability Reviews.

How long do I have to complete the Ticket to Work program?

There is no set time limit for those who choose to participate in the Ticket program because there are so many different providers and each beneficiary’s needs will be different. That said, the SSA will make periodic checks on your progress.

Once you assign your ticket and begin working with a provider, every 12 months you’ll have to submit to a “timely progress review.” During this review, the SSA will try to determine how much progress you’ve made toward your vocational goal. They may look at training courses that you’ve completed, educational programs you’re enrolled in, job interviews you’ve been on, or on-the-job training. If the SSA feels you are not making adequate progress, you can then risk losing your incentives.

Can I pursue self-employment with the Ticket program?

Yes, there are opportunities for those who wish to become self-employed. However, you will need to choose the right service provider who’s able to help you. Some providers may not be able to provide you the support you need to start your own business, so you should tell them upfront what your career goals are to make sure they’re a good fit. You can also ask a representative from the Ticket to Work helpline for assistance finding the right provider.

Ticket to Work Program

The Ticket to Work program has been providing employment opportunities to Social Security beneficiaries for over 20 years. This program can be an indispensable resource for disabled individuals who want to explore their job opportunities, but may not know where to start or may be afraid of losing their benefits.

With these disability services, you can access help with vocational rehabilitation, career counseling, and job placement. For disability beneficiaries who are able to do some work, the Ticket program is the perfect step toward independent living.