Woman with disability working from home

The SSA’s Ticket to Work Program Can Make Your Job Hunt Easier

Finding a job if you have a disability is an uphill battle, at best, thanks to discrimination and myriad other barriers.

It’s true that remote work has helped boost employment prospects, and there have been some significant gains recently. But overall employment and higher education levels for people with disabilities continue to significantly lag those of people without disabilities.

However, a program run by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) can help if you live in the U.S. The SSA’s Ticket to Work Program supports career development for people ages 18 to 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits and want to work. 

The Ticket to Work Program is free and voluntary. If you want to improve your earning potential and are committed to preparing for long-term success in the workforce, this program is a good fit. The Ticket Program connects you with free employment services to help you decide if working is right for you, prepare for work, find a job and be successful at work. 

Authorized service providers provide services through the program. These can include career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, job placement assistance, and job training. The service provider you choose will be an important part of your “employment team” to help you on your journey to financial independence.

The Ticket to Work program is a “game changer,” says Jim Allsup, founder and CEO of Allsup Employment Services and a leading Social Security reformer, who was instrumental in getting the Ticket to Work program legislation passed in 1999.

He adds that although the program has been around for almost 25 years, few know about it. “So many have been economically deprived because they were unaware it existed. Of the 7.6 million people on SSDI, only 30% are aware of the program. It enables people on SSDI to keep their Social Security Disability Insurance for 12 non-consecutive months while they are transitioning back to work.”

Types of Authorized Service Providers

There are several types of organizations authorized to provide services through the Ticket to Work Program.

Employment Networks

Employment Networks (ENs) are private or public organizations that can help with career counseling and assistance with job placement, including helping you understand how working may affect your Social Security benefits. Many ENs serve the communities and states in which they’re located, while others serve people in multiple states. 

You might work with an EN in person, over the phone, or virtually, depending on the network. ENs can also provide long-term support to help you find, keep, and advance in a job. 

If you decide to receive services from a particular EN, and the organization agrees to take you on, you work with that EN to complete an Individual Work Plan (IWP). Then you sign the IWP and “assign” your Ticket to that EN for the time that you’re receiving its services.

Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies usually assist people who need more significant help returning to work or  working for the first time. Depending on your state, these services can include:

  • intensive training
  • education (sometimes including college courses)
  • medical treatment and rehabilitation services
  • durable medical equipment, and/or
  • vehicle modification or repair 

VR agencies may also provide career counseling, job placement assistance, and counseling on how working may affect benefits.

If you want to receive services from your state VR agency, you work with the agency to complete an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).  When you sign the IPE, this puts your Ticket “in use” with the VR.

Work Incentives Planning & Assistance

Work Incentives Planning & Assistance (WIPA) projects are organizations familiar with programs in your community. These organizations are authorized by Social Security to provide free benefits counseling to eligible Social Security disability beneficiaries to help you make informed choices about work.

Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security

Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) organizations represent eligible beneficiaries to remove barriers to successful employment and will help you understand your rights at work.

Who Qualifies for the Ticket to Work Program?

People ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits because of their disability may participate in the Ticket to Work Program. Again, it costs nothing to participate, and you don’t have to in order to keep receiving benefits.

You may have received a paper Ticket in the mail, but you don’t need a paper Ticket to participate. The service provider you select will verify your eligibility. You can also find out your eligibility status by calling the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

Where Should You Start?

Getting started is easy. First, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) to verify your eligibility. 

On the call, SSA’s customer service representatives will explain how the program works, answer your questions or address concerns you might have, and offer to send you a list of service providers. If you prefer, you can use the Find Help tool to get a customized list of providers that are available to help you.

The next step is deciding what kind of service provider is right for you. You may work with either an EN or your state VR agency, depending on your needs. The “Finding an EN and Assigning Your Ticket Worksheet” can help you keep track of the ENs you’re interested in and provides important questions for you to ask them. 

If you started your employment journey with a state VR agency and have found a job, the VR agency may close your case about 90 days after you start working. If you need additional support after that, an EN may be able to provide it through an arrangement called Partnership Plus.  

You can learn more about how to choose a service provider that’s right for you at Your Path to Work: Ready to Work.

If you’re looking for more information about working, earning more money, and how working may affect your benefits, the in-depth counseling that a WIPA project provides may be a great place to start.

If you face any disability-related employment concerns along the way, a PABSS advocate can provide the legal support you need to help remove barriers and reinforce the protections provided to you.

Eligible beneficiaries don’t need to participate in the Ticket to Work Program to access WIPA and PABSS services.

What’s Next?

Here are six actions you can take right now to learn more about the Ticket Program and other Social Security Work Incentives:

  1. Call the Ticket to Work Help Line to get answers to your questions about Ticket to Work and other Work Incentives, working while you’re receiving benefits and reporting your wages to Social Security. You can reach the Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.
  2. Learn more about Social Security Work Incentives available to you.
  3. Read our Frequently Asked Questions about the Ticket Program.
  4. View success stories of beneficiaries who have used the Ticket Program to improve their lives and achieve financial independence.
  5. Sign up for a free WISE Webinar to learn more about the Ticket Program and other Work Incentives.
  6. Opt in to receive information via text about the Ticket Program by texting the word “TICKET” to 1-571-489-5292. You can opt out at any time.

Have you used the Ticket to Work Program? If so, please tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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