Do you suffer from a disability? Do you wish you could rediscover purpose and direction in life by going back to work?
You're not alone. Every October during Disability Employment Awareness Month, organizations across the country take time to educate the public about the challenges facing so many people with disabilities who are trying to find their place in the workforce.
We know people with disabilities want to go back to work. When we ask, 56 percent of the applicants we serve at Allsup Employment Services through our online social security disability insurance (SSDI) assistance platform indicate they want to go back to work someday. We also know that very few do.
The road back to employment can be a scary one, and many are afraid of losing the benefits they currently need to survive. Others don't have a clear path available, or they lack the resources they need to make it happen.
By receiving education at the start of the disability application process about the programs and assistance available, people with disabilities can better envision paths to put their lives and careers back on track.
For those who currently suffer from disabilities, the first thing they should do is 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, which can help them earn much more than they currently receive in SSDI benefits while improving their financial futures.
Research shows that the longer a person is detached from the labor force, the less likely it is they will return to work. If and when an individual is medically able to try some kind of work, the Ticket to Work program makes it easier for that person to test their readiness 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:
1. Employment Networks (ENs)
More than 600 ENs across the U.S. offer a range of free support services through the Ticket to Work program. Some ENs serve specific populations, while others provide specialized support services. You can click here to search for an EN.
2. Trial Work Period (TWP)
Individuals can keep their SSDI cash benefits while testing their ability to work for nine months. 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.
3. Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)
After the TWP ends, individuals receive full SSDI benefits for the first three months of this 36-month period in addition to job earnings. After that, they are eligible to receive SSDI benefits for any month when their job earnings drop below substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2017, SGA is $1,170 for non-blind individuals and $1,950 for blind individuals.
4. Continuing Medicare Coverage
After the TWP ends, Medicare coverage continues for up to 93 consecutive months. Individuals still receive coverage during this time even if SSDI payments end.
5. 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.
6. 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.
It's important to recognize and celebrate the value and talent added to teams everywhere by individuals with disabilities. A critical part of a strong economy and a diverse community is including people with disabilities within all workplaces.
Paula Morgan is senior claims representative at Allsup Employment Services, Inc.