LivAbility Magazine
Image of ticket to work.

Can You Make the Transition?

People who rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are often scared of losing their cash benefits, so they do not consider work as an option. Yet almost all agree that living solely on these benefits is very hard to do. If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you can work without losing your benefits.

In 1999 President Clinton signed the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act to enhance SSA’s employment programs. Beneficiaries have an option to try to work at their maximum capacity. Not only did this law create new work incentives, it offers a “ticket” you can use to access employment services through Employment Networks (ENs).

Each Employment Network (EN) is contracted by the Social Security Administration to provide career counseling, job placement assistance and long-term job retention services at a minimum. Some ENs only offer these minimal services while others provide a larger menu, so choosing an EN according to your needs is essential. Visit and click on “find help” for a list of ENs serving your area.

Eligibility for the Ticket to Work (TTW) program only requires that you are between ages 18-64 and are currently receiving SSI or SSDI. TTW is designed to help you achieve financial independence over time through work. It encourages you to work but still protects you from losing your benefits in case you cannot continue to work or cannot work at a level higher than your benefits.

Sometimes other resources need to be considered before or in conjunction with EN services, such as job skills training or assistive technology that enable you to work. More information on all of the options available can be found below and by visiting

I’ve been told that my SSDI benefits stop after working for 12 months. Can I work without risking this loss?
For the first 12 months you work above an established cap (the cap adjusts annually), you keep your full SSDI check. After 12 months, if you make above a certain monthly amount ($1,170 in 2017), your cash benefits are “suspended.” But for the next 93 months, if your disability does not allow you to continue earning above the threshold, — your benefits will be reinstated without re-applying or enduring another five-month waiting period. Bottom line: you cannot be worse off attempting to work.

The rules for SSI are quite different than SSDI. See sidebar to learn how CWICs can help.

What is my role in this process?
You are the decision-maker throughout the process. Getting back into the workforce after a lengthy absence is not easy. We can guide you, but the will to succeed is all your own. You will need to respond timely to all requests and remain in frequent contact with your employment coordinator. You will go into this understanding that getting a job and keeping it takes a lot of work on its own. Just like getting up and going to a job every day is expected by an employer, your job search and all the components involved in that take the same commitment, and you are expected to meet that commitment.

What are the most important things for me to consider when returning to work?

Who do you want to work for?
Choose companies, organizations, or agencies that provide products and services that match your qualifications rather than trolling job boards based only on job descriptions.

Are your skills current? Do you need new ones?
There are many short-term training and certification opportunities available without charge or student loans.

How do you talk to employers about your disability?
Don’t! See the website for a 30-minute webinar on this.

Ability360 Community Work Incentives Coordinators:

CWICs are here to help you understand the complexity of Social Security and help you maximize your earning potential. Navigating the SSA website can be confusing and calls to the agency may provide conflicting information. The Ticket to Work statute established Community Work Incentive Coordinators. They are not SSA employees. Their main job is to educate SSI and SSDI beneficiaries on how work affects benefits and show you how you can work and not run afoul of the rules. In Arizona, call 602-443-0720 or 866-304-WORK (9675) to be connected to CWIC services. Who qualifies for Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) services from a CWIC?
• Anyone between the ages of 14 and full retirement
• Receiving SSI or SSDI
• Have a desire to work

Ability360 Employment Network Services: Ability360 has been an EN since 2002. In those 14 years, we’ve career counseled more than 5,300 people with disabilities. Ability360 Employment Services offers comprehensive services including:
Benefits counseling and management
• Extensive training on today’s job readiness and search techniques
• Individual career counseling
• Job skills testing
• Job skills training coordination
• Job placement assistance
• Ongoing job retention supports for 45 months of actual worked time
• On-the-job advocacy and accommodations when needed
• Assigned employment coordinator for service continuity
• Other case management services for unforeseen needs

For More Information Contact Lisa Purdy, Ability360’s lead employment coordinator, at 602-443-0712 or toll-free at 800-280-2245 or visit our website,, click on Programs > Employment.

A picture of Susan Webb

Susan Webb

VP of Employment