Why is “Ticket to Work” Not Working?

Posted on Feb 02, 2016

On paper Ticket to Work seems like a noble idea.  As Social Security describes it: “Ticket to Work can help beneficiaries go to work, get a good job that may lead to a career, save more money and become financially independent. This program doesn’t affect your disability benefits — you can keep collecting your benefits while participating. Ticket to Work is a free and voluntary program that gives beneficiaries real choices to help them create and lead better lives.” 

Congress created Ticket to Work in 1999 as a way to get people back to work and off disability rolls. However, the New York Times reports that “so far, the program has had little success. Out of 12.5 million disabled workers and those who receive benefits for the disabled poor, only 13,656 returned to work over the last two and a half years, with less than a third of them earning enough to drop the benefits.”

Disability advocates say participation is low because of red tape and bureaucratic bumbling.  The complexity of the program is a deterrent to potential participants. Additionally, poor record-keeping by the Social Security Administration has resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in overpayments which the government is trying to recover. Some Social Security beneficiaries see that as a potential hassle they would rather avoid.

“All of that might not matter so much”, says the Washington Post, “if it were evident that decent pay awaited on the other side of this thicket of rules and programs. The more fundamental problem: People with disabilities tend to make far less than those without. On average, correcting for certain demographic and labor market characteristics, people with disabilities earn 37 percent less than their fully abled peers.”

The government is aware of the poor results of Ticket to Work and similar efforts to get more disabled people back to work.  Congress held hearings on this subject in 2015, but has little to show for its efforts so far.

We at Cuddigan Law believe more needs to be done to help the disabled find meaningful and financially viable jobs and politicians need to stop demonizing disabled Americans.  As Professor John Bound an economist at the University of Michigan told the New York Times: “In an atmosphere in which there is a concern about fiscal problems, it’s always easy to point the finger at groups and say, ‘These people should be working,’ exaggerating the degree to which the disability insurance program is broken.”

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