The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a number of employment support provisions commonly referred to as “work incentives.” These rules offer tools that beneficiaries can use to reduce their “countable” earnings to temporarily keep cash benefits while initially exploring work. Work incentives help beneficiaries enter, re-enter, or continue in employment by protecting their eligibility for cash payments and/or health care coverage until they achieve self-supporting employment.
The work incentives include a range of SSA-funded employment services through the Ticket to Work program. Services include consultation with a benefits specialist on how work affects benefits, the exclusion of earnings in determining continued eligibility for cash benefits, access to health care while working (even for long periods after cash benefits end), and streamlined benefit reinstatement if the work attempt eventually fails. Some work incentives are available to SSI recipients only, some are available to DI beneficiaries only, and some are offered to both SSI and DI beneficiaries. For details see “The Social Security Red Book–A Summary Guide to Employment Supports for Persons with Disabilities under the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs” at https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/.
But according to SSA’s Office of Retirement and Disability Policy Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support, relatively few beneficiaries take advantage of these incentive programs. In a report released in March 2020, SSA analyzed the characteristics and employment DI & SSI program participants. Based on 2015 data, it found awareness of SSA work incentives was low among beneficiaries and recipients, especially of SSI work incentives. The most widely known work incentive was the trial work period, but only about one-third of DI beneficiaries had heard of it. About one-quarter of beneficiaries and recipients had heard of Ticket to Work. Less than 20 percent of beneficiaries and recipients reported awareness of each of the other work incentives. None of the SSI-only work incentives exceeded a 15 percent awareness rate.
The report contains a wealth of data about characteristics of beneficiaries, including work histories, reasons for not participating in incentive programs, and much more for data geeks to love.