A disability is a life-changing event for any individual who has been financially independent for most of their life. Working at a job and earning a comfortable income – tasks people take for granted – is no longer guaranteed following circumstances that results in a physical, emotional or mental disability.

The option for people living with a disability is to file for Social Security benefits. The money they’ve put into the federal retirement insurance system over the course of a lifetime of working provides an income stream for much of their living expenses. Many individuals who are unable to work full time due to a disability have come to depend on the monthly benefits.

In 1999 the Social Security Administration established the Ticket to Work program to encourage and train disability benefit recipients to return to the workforce. Participating Employment Networks help program participants find employment and provide them with a variety of services including career counseling and job placement assistance. The value in the free and voluntary Ticket to Work program is that recipients continue to receive disability benefits, while working toward a goal of reducing or eliminating their dependence on the monthly benefits.

The Social Security Ticket to Work program accepts people who receive either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. You may want to know how SSDI and SSI differ and how you may qualify as a recipient, so here is a brief overview.


Most working people contribute a portion of their wages to Social Security taxes during their employment career. The amount you’ve earned is essential in determining what you would receive in disability benefits if the need arises. To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have a disability that prevents you from performing substantial gainful activity. The disability must be long-term or permanent, and you’ve earned enough work credits that would determine what you would receive.

The work credits are based on your annual employment or self-employment income, and the value of each credit changes from year to year. You may earn up to a maximum of four credits per year for every year you’ve paid into the system. The number of work credits you need to qualify for SSDI can change depending on the age you’ve filed for disability benefits and the number of years worked. For example, you must have 24 work credits after six years of work if you are disabled at 44 years of age.

Smiling disabled business executive in wheelchair at meeting


You may not have earned enough in wages to have the work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits yet live with a disabling condition that keeps you out of the workplace. In this case, you are likely receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits. SSI is a needs-based program that, like SSDI, requires recipients to be disabled long-term, at least a year or longer. SSI helps disabled people and older people who have limited or no income or assets. Recipients of SSI must meet strict income-based requirements. The Social Security Administration encourages disabled SSI recipients to take advantage of Social Security Ticket to Work program providers and the employment opportunities and incentives they offer.

An Incentive to Work

The Ticket to Work for Social Security disability recipients is just that, a means to get access to job opportunities and career training while still receiving SSDI and SSI benefits. The vocational counseling and placement assistance through Ticket to Work’s Employment Networks bring the disabled closer to a goal of financial independence and, in turn, less of a reliance on federal benefits. Contact the Social Security disability Ticket to Work program’s provider or the nearest Social Security Administration office to find out more.

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