What Is the WIPA Program?

The Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program provides free services to encourage and help disability recipients to return to work.

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

Some people receiving Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits would like to go back to work. But many are unsure how to get a job they can do and how working will affect their benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to encourage disability recipients to work. So, the agency offers a number of work incentives—special rules that enable someone receiving SSDI or SSI to work and continue receiving monthly disability payments and Medicare or Medicaid.

But going back to work, even under these special rules, could affect your benefits. That's where Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) programs can help. WIPA programs help those receiving Social Security disability benefits transition to work if they can.

What Is Social Security's WIPA Program?

The same law that created Social Security's Ticket to Work Program created the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program. The law aimed to encourage disabled individuals who want to (and are able) to return to work by eliminating obstacles and making the transition to work easier.

Social Security has contracted public, private, and nonprofit entities throughout the United States to create WIPA projects. WIPA projects are organizations within your community that the SSA has authorized to provide the following:

  • free benefits counseling so you can make informed choices about working, and
  • help to navigate your entry (or reentry) into the workforce.

Each WIPA project is staffed with Community Work Incentive Coordinators (CWICs) trained by Social Security to help you make informed decisions about returning to work. CWICs can provide detailed information and guidance about how working could affect your disability benefits.

Am I Eligible for WIPA Services?

If you're receiving Social Security disability benefits and you want to work, you're likely eligible for WIPA services. Anyone receiving SSDI or SSI disability benefits can take advantage of WIPA services as long as they're between 14 years old and full retirement age and either:

  • currently employed, or
  • about to start working—even if you're just preparing to find a job.

Social Security might refer you to a WIPA project if you're a disability recipient between 14 and 25 (even if you're not currently working or looking for a job).

What Can a WIPA Project Do for Me?

WIPA projects are designed to help you understand the rules of specific work incentives and how they apply to your particular situation. A CWIC who works for WIPA can help you analyze how work and earnings could impact the benefits you receive, including disability benefits, Medicaid, Medicare, and other public benefits you receive.

CWICs are trained to help you understand the potential benefits of employment as a Social Security disability recipient. That includes explaining the various state, federal, and non-profit services available to you and how they might fit best with your needs. Specifically, CWICs can:

  • provide planning and assistance designed to encourage disability recipients to return to work, such as:
    • assisting you with writing a PASS plan, and
    • accompanying SSI recipients to Social Security offices to meet with field representatives regarding work incentive issues
  • help you determine your eligibility for federal or state work incentive programs—including programs outside Social Security, like utility subsidies and housing assistance
  • refer you to the appropriate employment network (EN) or state department of rehabilitation based on your individual needs and impairment type
  • provide information about employee-based or federally subsidized health benefits coverage (Medicare or Medicaid) available to those who enter the workforce, and
  • inform you of the protection and advocacy services available to you.

Plus, CWICs can help you navigate the various work incentive and assistance programs available to disability recipients. CWICs can help you coordinate assistance from various agencies, like:

  • your state's department of rehabilitation
  • the SSA's employment networks
  • one-stop workforce development centers (created under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), and
  • the WIPAs themselves.

Once you begin working, WIPA projects can provide information and support to help you successfully transition from disability to work and financial independence.

How Do I Find a WIPA Program?

For a referral to the WIPA that serves your area, you should contact Social Security by:

  • calling the Ticket to Work helpline at 866-968-7842 (TTY 866-833-2967), or
  • visiting Social Security's Choose Work website and selecting "Benefits Counseling (WIPA)."

Be ready to provide details about the disability benefits you receive and your goals. You might need to sign releases so your local WIPA project can verify the benefits you receive from Social Security and any other benefit provider (for instance, if you receive other benefits like state SSI supplements or VA disability).

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

Updated December 29, 2023

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