Social Security Ticket to Work Program

The Ticket to Work program is designed to get vocational services to recipients of Social Security disability benefits.

By , Attorney · University of North Carolina School of Law
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Social Security created its Ticket to Work program to encourage disability recipients to return to work and help them on the road to financial independence. The Ticket to Work program expands the vocational services available to people receiving disability benefits through SSDI and SSI.

As an incentive, participation in Ticket to Work protects your disability benefits while you attempt to return to work. But Ticket to Work is strictly voluntary, so choosing not to participate won't threaten your benefits.

Ticket to Work participants receive services from "employment networks" (ENs), which collaborate to provide vocational and career resources. ENs can include a combination of the following:

  • state vocational services
  • state and local government agencies
  • private for-profit and nonprofit organizations
  • postsecondary institutions, and
  • coalitions of service providers.

These organizations become part of an EN by entering into contracts with Social Security via the ticket program manager (TPM). (Cognosante, a technology company based in Falls Church, Virginia, is the TPM until December 2025. Formerly, Maximum was the TPM.)

Here's what you need to know about how the Ticket to Work program connects disability recipients with training and job placement services offered by state agencies and employment networks.

What Ticket to Work Employment Networks Do

Employment networks (ENs) provide a wide range of employment support services to participating SSI and SSDI recipients, such as:

  • vocational training
  • career planning
  • job readiness training
  • resumé writing classes, and
  • job placement.

Some ENs specialize in providing services only to people with specific disabilities (such as developmental disabilities), while others serve all Ticket to Work participants.

Other ENs are businesses that rely on the EN system as a means to employ people with disabilities in their own businesses. These ENs are alternatives to the state departments of vocational rehabilitation.

(Employers who want to participate in Ticket to Work can learn more on Social Security's Ticket website for ENs.)

Free Services Available With a Ticket to Work

If you're enrolled in the Ticket to Work program, you can sign up for services with an EN or your state vocational rehabilitation department. Social Security calls this "assigning your Ticket" to the EN or your state department of vocational rehabilitation.

ENS and state vocational rehab agencies must provide you services free of charge—meaning you don't pay anything. Social Security pays the ENs, but only if you use their services to reduce or end your reliance on disability benefits by going back to work.

Note that an EN can accept or reject you as a client, but your state department of rehabilitation must accept you as a Ticket to Work participant—as long as you meet the state's disability criteria.

You can change ENs by withdrawing and reassigning your Ticket. But changing ENs doesn't extend the time you have to complete your Ticket to Work program (see below).

Eligibility for Ticket to Work Program

Most SSDI and SSI beneficiaries between ages 18 and 64 are eligible for the Ticket to Work program. But the program is not available to those who:

How Long Does the Ticket to Work Program Last?

Once you assign your ticket to an EN or your state department of vocational rehabilitation, you begin a seven-year program that includes:

  • education
  • job training, and
  • work.

You're required to make "timely progress" toward your goal during the first six years. What counts as progress varies depending on whether you're working, going to school, or both during those years.

During the seventh year, you must complete six months of work at the substantial gainful activity level. And you won't qualify for SSDI or federal SSI benefits during those six months (because of your earnings).

Suspension of Continuing Disability Reviews

While you're pursuing a Ticket to Work program and meeting your timely progress requirements, Social Security can't initiate a continuing disability review (CDR). (Social Security conducts CDRs to determine whether your medical condition has improved and if you still qualify as disabled.)

But Social Security can complete any CDR that begins before you assign your Ticket to Work. And if you fail to meet your timely progress requirements, you can stay in the Ticket to Work program (according to Social Security's Ticket to Work FAQs), but you'll once again become subject to continuing disability reviews.

Will Your Disability Benefits Be Reduced or Stopped?

The Ticket to Work program doesn't do away with the trial work protections of SSDI or the PASS protections of SSI. But some disability recipients believe that using the Ticket to Work program would risk their entitlement to Social Security benefits, so only a small percentage of disability recipients have taken advantage of it.

Learn more about your disability benefit protections when you try returning to work.

Other Work Incentives for Those on Disability

In addition to creating the Ticket to Work program, the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act provides additional work incentives for people receiving SSDI or SSI by:

  • creating the WIPA program to provide benefits counseling
  • providing the expedited reinstatement provisions
  • encouraging states to make Medicaid available to people with disabilities who are working and earning up to 250% of the federal poverty level
  • extending the period during which SSDI beneficiaries can receive continuing Medicare after returning to work at the SGA level
  • authorizing payments to state Protection and Advocacy agencies for providing services to SSDI and SSI beneficiaries who return to work, and
  • authorizing grants for work incentives planning and assistance.

Learn more about returning to work while receiving Social Security disability benefits.

Updated June 30, 2023

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