Disability Employment Awareness Month Reminded Us to Make the Most of Ticket to Work
October marked the annual occurrence of Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM) in the U.S., where organizations nationwide work to educate the public on the value and necessity of a workforce that includes people with disabilities, as well as the challenges faced by this group when trying to find a place in the modern workforce.
For people with disabilities, experiencing the personal rewards of returning to work is not only satisfying but can lend a sense of security for the future. After a sometimes grueling recovery from a severe condition or illness, becoming financially independent and secure again can help renew a sense of purpose and direction in life.
Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly twice as high as those who are able-bodied (7.3 percent versus 3.4 percent). That’s in part due to the many misconceptions shared by employers and policymakers — and even individuals with disabilities themselves. Research shows the longer that formerly injured or ill individuals are out of the workforce, the harder it becomes for them to re-enter. It’s crucial to help this transition occur as quickly as possible, especially since it’s the financial disruption that can cause the largest problems down the line – not the initial costs for medical treatment.
Allsup Employment Services specialists know that people with disabilities want to go back to work. When we ask, more than half of the applicants we serve through our online Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) assistance platform indicate they do want to go back to work someday. We also know that very few do. The road back to employment can be a scary one―many are afraid of losing the benefits they currently need to survive. Other potential job seekers just don’t have a clear path available, or the resources they need, to make that happen.
However, there is some good news. In today’s tightening labor market, employers are starting to show more openness to providing accommodations to workers who have experienced a severely disabling illness or injury. By receiving education at the start of their Social Security disability application process about the programs and assistance available, people with disabilities can better envision a path to put their lives and careers back on track.
For those who have a disability, the first thing to do is to find out if they qualify for SSDI, and then apply immediately. If they have already been awarded SSDI, they could benefit from Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. Ticket to Work can help them earn more money than they currently receive in SSDI benefits and can improve their financial future. If and when an individual is medically able to try some kind of work, this program makes it easier for the person to test whether he or she is ready to work, without the fear of losing SSDI and Medicare benefits.
To make the most of the program, it helps to understand these Ticket to Work basics:
- Employment Networks (ENs). More than 600 ENs across the U.S. offer a range of free support
services through the Ticket program. Some ENs serve specific populations, while others provide specialized support services. You can visit the SSA’s Ticket to Work page to search for an EN, or you can check out the TrueHelp site for more information on returning to work with SSDI.
- Trial Work Period (TWP). Individuals can keep their SSDI cash benefits while testing their ability to work for nine months (anytime during a 60-month time period). They have a safety net where they can test their ability to work again and receive full SSDI benefits in addition to their job earnings.
- Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). After the Trial Work Period ends, individuals are eligible to receive SSDI benefits for any month in which their job earnings drop below a threshold called “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). In 2018, SGA is $1,180 for non-blind individuals and $1,970 for blind individuals. This period lasts 36 months.
- Continuing Medicare Coverage. After the Trial Work Period ends, Medicare coverage continues for up to 93 consecutive months. Individuals still receive coverage during this time even if SSDI payments end.
- Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits. If individuals become unable to work again within five years after the EPE ends, they can request to have their SSDI benefits restarted without filing a new Application.
- Continuing Disability Review (CDR) Protection. Social Security periodically reviews disability claims. As part of the Ticket to Work program, individuals are exempt from medical CDRs and their status remains unchanged. For patients ready and medically able to return to work, taking advantage of the Ticket to Work program can help prepare them for success.
As you can see, there are years of protection and important supports to help individuals attempt a return to work. Returning to work can be tough and complicated, but the Ticket to Work program can streamline the process. Working again also can provide a better financial future in the years leading up to retirement. For many people with disabilities, using their Social Security disability benefits could be their best path back into the workforce.
By Paula Morgan, Return to Work Case Manager at Allsup Employment Services