Sunday, August 3, 2003

Alive and well

Program gives disabled needed employment choices

Debra Kendrick

My brother seriously injured his back ten years ago and, because an essential function of his job was heavy lifting and bending, he was no longer able to work. Like millions of other Americans with disabilities, cash benefits available through the Social Security Administration came to his rescue.

While SSI and SSDI benefits enable many people with disabilities to remain in their homes and live independently, many find that the rules connected with these benefits can make returning to work difficult. A quadriplegic with significant medical expenses, for example, will think long and hard about taking a job that pays $400 a week if it means forfeiting Medicaid coverage which might claim the entire earnings.

Like many programs affecting Americans with Disabilities, Social Security is trying to afford individuals more personal choice with regard to the services they receive. Launched in 2002 with a January 2004 completion date, the Ticket to Work program is designed with choice (and, presumably, successful placements) in mind.

In November, close to four million Americans currently receiving SSI or SSDI will get a "ticket" in the mail, inviting them to participate in the Ticket to Work program; 384,500 of those are Ohioans. Tickets were mailed to participants in 13 states in Phase 1, February 2002, and 20 more states (including Kentucky and Indiana) November 2002. This third and final phase will bring the total of tickets mailed to approximately nine million.

How it works:

If a person with a disability accepts the ticket, he or she takes it to a cooperating Employment Network facility for job-training or job-seeking services. Any private or state agency providing job training, job seeking, resume writing, interviewing, or other services directed at securing employment can become an Employment Network.

Interested participants attending a free conference last month in Cincinnati represented a broad spectrum of agencies, including Spina Bifada Association, Jewish Vocational Services, Freestore/Foodbank, Goodwill, Down Syndrome Association and Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, and many others. In theory at least, the program provides a win-win proposal. To become an Employment Network costs an agency nothing. To do so and to succeed in securing employment for ticket holders generates revenue. And, of course, for the ticket holders themselves, to enter into agreement with an Employment Network and succeed means returning to the workforce.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the program from the consumer perspective is choice. The person with a disability chooses whether or not to use the ticket, chooses the Employment Network to work with, chooses his or her own employment or income goals, and even chooses to bow out of the program if things aren't working. While in the process of working toward agreed-upon goals, ticket holders can continue to receive Medicare or Medicaid benefits and even the SSI or SSDI cash benefits themselves for up to five years.

The Employment Network can receive payments - as much as roughly $20,000 - for each individual who becomes successfully employed.

With nearly half of the tickets yet to be released, it's too early to determine the success of the Ticket to Work program. Giving people with disabilities the opportunity to choose their own services and a genuine opportunity to go to work, however, certainly feels like progress. For information on becoming a ticket holder or employment network, call Maximus, Inc. at (866) 968-7842.

For more information on the program itself, visit www.yourticketto or www.socialsecurity .gov.

Contact Debra Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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