Ticket to Work Called ‘Free Money’ Source for Employers

By Kathy Gurchiek May 10, 2010

The Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to play matchmaker. Its Ticket to Work program connects organizations with people with disabilities and provides participating employers with what the SSA calls “an unrestricted funding stream” of “free money.”

CESSI, which manages the program’s recruitment and outreach for the SSA, presented details in a 90-minute April 28, 2010, webinar, “Beneficiaries Need You! Why Your Organization Should Become an Employment Network: Advantages and Supports Available.”

The Ticket to Work program is part of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 and is performance based, with the aim of helping those with disabilities become self-sufficient and reduce their reliance on disability benefits.

The SSA provides disability beneficiaries with a ticket that is used to obtain services and jobs from Employment Networks (ENs). Beneficiaries are people ages 18 to 64 who receive cash benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on disability or blindness, according to the Ticket to Work web site.

ENs are private profit and nonprofit organizations, nonfederal government agencies, employers and other service providers that offer education, job training and employment services, said Ray Cebula, program moderator and faculty member at the Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School Employment and Disability Institute. A single entity, a partnership or a coalition of providers can function as an EN.

An employer or any other potential EN must be qualified “to assume responsibility for the coordination and/or delivery of employment, vocational rehabilitation or other support services to ticket holders to help them achieve their employment goals,” according to the program web site.

Entities such as the Department of Labor One Stop Career Centers and State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies automatically qualify as ENs under the program.

The SSA notifies persons who become ticket holders of their eligibility to participate in the program. Beneficiaries can view an online directory of all ENs or contact MAXIMUS—a private company contracted with the SSA to support ticket program operations—to learn about available EN services.

Additionally, ENs are encouraged to reach out to ticket holders. ENs have access to basic contact information on ticket holders in their service area who have not started working with another EN. And there are Work Incentives Seminar Events where EN representatives can meet ticket holders and explain the kinds of supports and services they provide.

The EN assesses its services, as well as the ticket holder’s expertise, capacity and goals, and determines which, if any, ticket holders the employer wants to work with, according to webinar presenters.

Only one ticket is assigned to an EN at a time. The EN then negotiates an individual work plan (IWP) that spells out the ticket holder’s employment goals. An IWP, for example, might indicate the beneficiary’s goal in the next three to 12 months is to become a nurse’s aide or home care aide making at least $720 per month, and a long-term career goal of becoming a registered nurse making at least $2,000 per month.

The IWP would spell out the support or services the EN agrees to provide—job coaching, help with resume writing, mock job interviews, mentoring, and providing transportation in the first nine months, for example—to help the individual reach his or her short-term goal.

The EN receives revenue from the SSA when the ticket holder achieves certain milestones related to self-supporting employment. The SSA views payments to an EN as compensation for helping beneficiaries move toward their goals, according to the program web site.

An EN can select the type of beneficiary or ticket holder that it serves. For example, an organization can target its services to ticket holders who are blind, Cebula said. An EN is under no obligation to take a ticket assignment, he added. The EN can end its agreement with the ticket holder—even after the IWP is signed—by providing written notice to MAXIMUS. The ticket holder is responsible for finding a new EN if he or she wants to continue in the program.

The program is seeing an increase in the average number of tickets assigned per month—887 in 2008/2009 vs. 332 in 2007/2008. As of April 1, 2010, there were 1,254 EN contracts and 27,279 tickets assigned to ENs.

And the number of beneficiaries who are working has risen from May 2008—when there were 4,034 ticket holders whose earnings generated payments to ENs—to 9,481 such ticket holders in April 2010, a 135 percent increase.

Parties interested in becoming an EN are advised to use the SSA’s EN Revenue Estimator to determine the potential revenue it can receive from Ticket to Work. See http://www.cessi.net/en_estimator for more information.

It’s among a plethora of resources available to those interested in becoming an EN, including a robust web site with a toolkit, frequently asked questions and Ticket Training Tuesdays. Ticket Training Tuesdays are toll-free conference calls with staff and other ENs. Interactive modules are used during the calls to teach the fundamentals of the program, such as how the ticketing process works and the payment process.

Organizations interested in becoming an EN can indicate their interest via e-mail at application@cessi.net, call 877-743-8237 or visit www.cessi.net/ttw.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.

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