For many people receiving Social Security disability benefits, working offers financial independence, more options, a sense of achievement and well-being. But it can be daunting to think about entering or re-entering the workforce. Don’t let the fear of having to immediately give up your benefits or anxiety about work hold you back! You don’t have to do it alone. There are people who can help and point you to important resources.
Everyone can benefit from guidance that helps them make informed decisions about their future. If you are age 18 through 64 and receive Social Security disability benefits, you can get free counseling, advice about what work would mean for your disability benefits, and many other employment support services through Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. The program is free and voluntary, and you have nothing to lose by learning about what is possible!
Ticket to Work connects you to a variety of service providers ready to support you on your journey to financial independence. Some, like state vocational rehabilitation agencies, help you prepare for the workforce by linking you to specialized training. Others provide counseling and advice about how working affects Social Security and other public benefits. Many offer career counseling, résumé development, interview skills and job leads.
This feature focuses on some of the supports offered through providers known as Employment Networks (ENs). ENs offer a variety of services and help you stay employed or advance your career even after you’ve landed a job. A good EN will be your partner, problem-solver and champion. They will maintain a professional relationship with you for years. Because not all ENs offer the same services, it’s important to talk with as many as possible before you agree to work together. Our fact sheet, Choosing the Right Employment Network for You, will guide you through this decision.
To learn about your Ticket to Work Employment Team, check out Meet Your Employment Team.
Once you've found the right EN and decide to work together, you will both sign an agreement known as an Individual Work Plan (IWP). “Individual” means this plan is developed just for you. The IWP is like a roadmap that leads you where you want to go. It’s designed to help you reach milestones in achieving your employment goals.
The IWP is also a contract. When you and your EN agree to work toward common objectives, you both have responsibilities to meet. Your EN agrees to invest time and resources to help you become employable, find work, and keep a job. If your EN doesn’t hold up their end of the agreement or you’re not satisfied with their support, you can switch to another EN.
While you make timely progress in the Ticket program, Social Security will not do a medical Continuing Disability Review (CDR) to determine if you continue to qualify for disability benefits. Social Security rules called Work Incentives can allow you to focus on determining how employment will work for you, so you don’t need to worry about the immediate loss of benefits. Because of certain "safety net" Work Incentives, your Social Security disability benefits and Medicare or Medicaid don’t suddenly disappear when you go to work. An EN or other provider qualified to offer benefits counseling can give you free advice about your situation and the potential risks and rewards of employment.
Your End of the Bargain
Your side of the agreement involves meeting responsibilities that the EN will explain to you and help you to meet. These are a little different for everyone based on your benefits and what is in your IWP. They fall into three categories:
- Making timely progress in the program through a combination of education, training, and earnings.
- Reporting wages to Social Security
- Reporting any change in status (employment, marital, living arrangements) to Social Security
Ticket program participants like Cherie Cummings will tell you the benefits of financial independence are worth all the time and effort you’ll invest.
"When I learned that the risk was not as big as I thought, that made it easier to start working, and to keep going from there. When I found out I wasn’t going to lose my benefits right away… it alleviated all of the biggest fears I had about going back full time."
– Cherie Cummings, Ticket to Work participant
Read Part 2 of What Every Job Seeker Should Know to understand your responsibilities in more detail.
If you have questions about finding help through Ticket to Work, visit SocialSecurity.gov/work and contact the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (Voice) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket to Work Find Help tool.