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Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Programs

By Marie Guma-Diaz

photo of Workshop presenters Frank Torano, Berthy de la Rosa Aponte, Jill Houghton and ASL Interpreter
Workshop presenters Frank Torano (standing), Berthy de la Rosa Aponte (seated left), Jill Houghton (seated right) and ASL Interpreter (standing right)

The Social Security Administration is helping people with disabilities gain employment without losing their benefits.

“There is a paradigm shift in the Social Security Administration, which is now saying, you can go to work and we are going to help you,” said Berthy De La Rosa Aponte, chair of the National Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel (TWWIAP).

“Do not be afraid to test your ability to go back to work,” said Torano. “We are going to help you become independent, by doing the most that we can with the existing laws,” said Frank Torano, South Florida area work incentives coordinator for the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Program came into effect in 2000. It is designed for people with disabilities who are interested in going to work, without losing their health care benefits. Under the Ticket Program, the SSA provides disability beneficiaries with a Ticket, which may be used to obtain the services and jobs they need from a number of organizations called Employment Networks (ENs), Jill Houghton, executive director of the TWWIAP said.

TWWIAP provides recommendations to the President, Congress and the commissioner of the Social Security Administration on how to implement the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA). It consists of a bipartisan group of twelve private citizens, more than half of them are people with a disability. “The people who serve on the panel are everyday people like you and I from across the country,” Houghton said. “They bring a nice mixture of different points of view to the table.” The panel will conclude at the end of the year, with the release of their final report on December 3.

The panel will release a new set of policy recommendations to promote employment and independence for people with disabilities on July 26, 2007. “The report will be powerful because it is the people’s report from every state and territory,” Houghton said.

Also in the near future, the panel will release a report from the “Voices for Change Summit,” which took place in February and provided an opportunity for beneficiaries to share their experiences and ideas about how to improve social security programs.

De La Rosa Aponte and her husband Milton Aponte have been disability advocates for over 20 years; Lucy, the youngest of their three children, has significant developmental disabilities. She has been the motivation for the couple to work towards a better world for people with disabilities. “I am Lucy’s mom,” De La Rosa Aponte said. “She has been my guiding light, my inspiration and teacher; because of her we have become advocates at the national level.”

Houghton also has worked for many years as a service provider for people with disabilities. In the past, she has dealt with statewide employment issues at Florida Vocational Rehabilitation. She founded the Washington state Business Leadership Network and helped coordinate the transition to community-based employment services at United Cerebral Palsy in Washington state. Houghton has also worked at the University of Colorado and served as the executive director for Support Services for Citizens with Autism, Inc. in Kansas City. At the end of the workshop, she reflected on the value of the conference for everyone involved. “Coming [here] has made us aware of the issues [that worry you],” Houghton said. “Berthy will take these issues back to the panel so, maybe, the SSA can be more sensitive and better prepared.”

Overview of the Work Incentives Program

  1. If you get SSI and your income increases, your check will be less.
  2. If you get SSDI and want to go back to work, SS will not stop benefits. You will continue to receive a check for nine months so you can test your ability to work.
  3. Once the nine months are up you will enter the extended period of benefits for 36 months, when you will continue to receive your check every month that you make less than $900.
  4. After the 36 months have expired, if you continue to earn more than $900 per months then benefits from SS will terminate.
  5. Medicare coverage will continue for seven years after the first nine-month trial period. After that, you can buy into Medicare.
  6. If you stop working or your income falls below $900 per month within five years after your social security eligibility has ended, an expedited reinstatement process will pay you for six months until a medical determination is made about your renewed eligibility.

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