By Donald M. Fitch, MS
Center for Career Freedom
According to the Social Security Administration, 19,418 disabled beneficiaries of SSI and SSDI, 18-64 years old, residing in Westchester County will receive a “Ticket-to-Work and Self-Sufficiency” Voucher in the next several months. In NYS about 614,000 persons with disabilities will receive it. Distribution in Westchester began on February 11th.
The “Ticket” is SSA’s latest effort to encourage persons with psychiatric or physical disabilities to return to work.
SSA estimates that fewer than 1% of SSI or SSDI beneficiaries leave the disability rolls and return to work. If only one-half of one percent ceased receiving benefits as a result of returning to work, the savings to the Social Security Trust Fund would be over three and a half billion dollarsover the work life of these individuals.
In addition to encouraging recipients to leave SSI/SSDI for competitive employment and self-sufficiency, other purposes of the Ticket Program are to:
- Increase beneficiary choice in obtaining rehabilitation services, and to
- Remove barriers that require people with disabilities to choose between health care coverage and work.
Importantly, for the first time ever, the recipient will have a choice in deciding who they want to assist them in obtaining employment and other support services. They will no longer be mandated to utilize VESID, New York State Education Department’s Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities.
Other benefits to the recipient for leaving SSI/SSDI and returning to competitive employment include:
- Extended Medicare coverage from the current 4 years to 8 ½ years
- No Medical Continuing Disability Review for 5 years during employment
- Access to benefits planning to ease the transition to self-sufficiency.
A booklet which accompanies the Ticket to Work instructs recipients to call MAXIMUS at 1866-968-7842 to learn where they can obtain vocational services. To learn even more about ticket to work, you should visitwww.yourtickettowork.com orwww.ssa.gov/work.
Currently there are four choices for persons with psychiatric disabilities in Westchester; VESID, The Center for Career Freedom, Human Development Services of Westchester (HDSW), and the Mental Health Association of Riverdale.
The Ticket is a milestone on the road to recovery and we applaud the efforts of the advocates, caregivers and legislators who brought it to fruition. However, had it not been for the heroic efforts of Harvey Rosenthal of NYAPRS who, along with others, chained themselves to Governor Pataki’s office to urge passage of the Medicaid Buy-In initiative, the ticket could not fulfill its promise.
Currently, SSI/Medicaid beneficiaries who attempt to work their way off of SSI to self-sustaining competitive employment are penalized because SSI takes one-half of all earnings over $85./mo. This and the Medicaid spend-down requirement together wipe out most of what they earn. Dollar wise, these have been the major barrier to reentry into the workforce.
On January 23rd, the NYS Assembly and Senate passed the Medicaid Buy-In legislation, a landmark opportunity which allows disabled people to earn up to $45,500/year and still receive Medicaid coverage (at a cost of $1,260/year in premiums). If it is signed into law and funded, the program would begin in April 2003 giving people a year to prepare, train and test the waters with part-time employment.
While this is certainly good news, major hurdles still exist; rent takes .30 of every $1.00, (Sec. 8/Shelter Plus), and food stamps are minimal ($10/mo) for persons in supported housing. For example, a person who wants to go back to work and earn $400/mo. keeps only $6 out of the $400.
Hopefully, the next milestone will enable SSI recipients to transition to full time employment by providing a higher earnings threshold, at least at the poverty level.
SSDI beneficiaries who want to go back to work and earn $400/mo. maintain an almost 2:1 economic advantage over SSI beneficiaries. According to SSA’s “Red Book on Employment Support”, SSDI beneficiaries can earn up to $780./mo and still retain their disability status and income. For example, the average consumer at our Center receives 800/mo in Social Security Disability. If they went back to work and earned $750, their total monthly income would be $1550 with a net gain of $280. This does not include on going prescription drug costs which can run $150-$400+/mo. (These are deductible).
To address the consumer/survivor’s response to these changes The Center recently initiated a survey among SSI and SSDI beneficiaries to quantify the impact of future earnings on benefits and the desire to return to work. Results will be reported in a future issue of Mental Health News.
It is the responsibility of every caregiver to understand and communicate the realities of theeconomics of recovery to all consumers/survivors who want to return to work and especially to the Ticket-holders.