The new Biden administration has put forward a number of proposals to assist beneficiaries with Social Security Disabilities and Additional Security Income (SSI) who are voluntarily trying to re-enter the world of work. Both Republicans and Democrats have shown interest in this area of politics, and it can be one of those areas where some political consensus can be reached – even with a potentially divided government.
In particular, some humble and straightforward steps can be taken to improve the Social Security TTW (Ticket to Work) program. TTW was founded in 1999 and supports beneficiaries with disabilities who try to work. The program essentially consists of three integrated parts: planning, work preparation and placement, and work incentives.
The planning aspect is handled by community organizations called WIPA (Work Incentives Planning and Assistance) organizations. WIPAs help beneficiaries formulate a basic plan for returning to work and help beneficiaries understand the complex rules of how income affects social security benefits.
With regard to the preparation and placement of jobs, before TTW beneficiaries with disabilities could only receive services through government agencies for vocational rehabilitation (VR). TTW added a service option where beneficiaries could partner with private sector private employment networks (ENs) to create jobs.
Incentives to work are features of the Social Security Act that encourage recipients with disabilities to try to return to work. The rules are complicated – therefore WIPAs are required – but generally provide a longer period of time for beneficiaries to work and earn before benefit payments cease.
While the TTW program has an integrated and rational structure, it is a program of modest size. Every year around 350,000 disabled people receive benefits. The vast majority of disability recipients do not participate in the program because their health prevents them from working.
Modest-sized programs like TTW are often the target of poor policy proposals. This is because policy makers assume that the programs should affect more people. But this type of view reflects confused thinking. A major example will illustrate.
The first budget in the Trump administration saw large savings ($ 49 billion over 5 years) from unspecified efforts to get Americans out of disability programs and into the workforce. However, the underlying health problems of disabled recipients are so severe that savings of the order of magnitude proposed by the government administration would never happen.
Given this reality, the Trump administration later advocated legislation to move the TTW program from the SSA to the Department of Labor, suggesting that such a move would greatly increase the labor force participation of beneficiaries with disabilities – but move the program into a different box The government organization chart is a controversial and dubious proposal.
While savings on the order of the Trump administration’s budget in their budgets have never been realistic, it should be noted that the savings for the federal government from TTW participants who forego Social Security or SSI benefits due to work Not trivial are: USD 3.5 billion from 2002-2014.
Congress and the future Biden administration should look for humble and straightforward ways to improve the TTW program. There are several possible approaches that both parties could support.
First, Congress should increase funding for WIPAs. Annual funding for these organizations has been frozen at $ 23 million for the past 20 years. Adjusted for inflation, the value of $ 23 million today should be $ 36 million. Simply put, these community organizations must be properly funded if Congress wants disabled people to understand the complex work incentives that both Republicans and Democrats have put into law.
Congress may also want to move the WIPA funds from the SSA’s managerial accounts to mandatory accounts such as the SSI accounts. In fact, most of the expenditure under the TTW program (SSA payments to private employment networks and government vocational rehabilitation agencies) already comes from the mandatory accounts. Such a move would also have the positive effect of reducing the current underfunding of the SSA’s administrative budget.
While the TTW program has an integrated and rational structure, one part is missing: the service for young people in transition age. SSI recipients aged 14-17 could be better served if private sector employment networks could support them (currently the law only allows state vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide job preparation and support services to these young people) and if community organizations could provide additional WIPA funding serve as a solid link between families with disabled youth and private employment networks and government agencies for vocational rehabilitation.
This approach would help take advantage of a key work incentive called Section 301, which allows younger SSI recipients to maintain their benefits for a period of time after they turn 18, as long as they are with a service provider (e.g., a government job ) cooperate rehabilitation program) to prepare for employment in adulthood.
Finally, Congress may want to simplify some of the work incentives, including removing the limit on student income exclusion. This proposal, backed by the Trump administration, would better enable disabled students (under the age of 22) to earn an income during the summer or other months without reducing their SSI.
In a potentially divided government, it will be important for policy makers to identify areas where some consensus could emerge. One such area is the humble and straightforward improvement of programs that promote the success of disabled people, especially disabled youth, in the labor market.
David A. Weaver, Ph.D., is an economist and retired federal employee who has authored a number of studies on the social security program. The views in this article do not reflect the views of any federal agency.