2008 Annual Report of the SSI Program

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1. Work Incentives
Since the beginning of the SSI program, a number of disabled or blind recipients have worked and received SSI payments. Initially, the program contained a basic earned income exclusion that recognized the additional costs associated with employment. In addition, the law contained a number of special income exclusions which were intended as work incentives. Among these provisions were the income exclusion for blind work expenses (BWE), plan to achieve self-support (PASS), and student earned income exclusion (SEIE).
In the 1980 amendments to the Social Security Act, Congress provided additional incentives to help SSI disabled recipients become self-supporting. These incentives included:
Changing the treatment of sheltered workshop earnings from unearned income to earned income, thereby qualifying sheltered workshop earnings for the earned income exclusion;
Providing for the continuation of SSI payments for certain disabled individuals enrolled in vocational rehabilitation programs whose disability ceased due to medical recovery (extended to SSI blind recip­ients, effective April, 1988);
In subsection 1619(a), special SSI cash benefits to disabled individuals who lose eligibility for SSI payments because they have earnings exceeding the level that is ordinarily considered to represent substantial gainful activity (SGA), and
In subsection 1619(b), special SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes to working disabled or blind individuals when their earnings make them ineligible for cash payments.
The incentives for work and opportunities for rehabilitation are discussed in more detail in section III.E. In the tables that follow we provide historical information on participation by SSI recipients in work incen­tive programs.1
a. Numbers of Participants in Work Incentive Programs
In this section, we present historical data on participation by SSI recipients in work incentive programs. Table V.E1 presents historical numbers of SSI recipients categorized according to their section 1619 sta­tus. Figure V.E1 presents this information in graphical form.
level 1
workers 4
5 700
1Increases in 2001 and subsequent years are based on increases in the national average wage index.
2Workers’ earnings are above SGA level.
3Workers’ earnings are at or below SGA level.
41619(b) recipients are not in current-payment status but retain SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes.
5Increased to $700 in July 1999.
Figure V.E1.—SSI Federally-Administered Blind or Disabled Working Recipients
as of December, 1987‑2007[In thousands]
Table V.E2 presents historical numbers of SSI recipients who benefit from other selected work incentive provisions: (1) plan to achieve self-support (PASS), (2) impairment-related work expense exclusion (IRWE), and (3) blind work expense exclusion (BWE). These recipients may be benefiting from more than one of these selected work incentive provisions. This information is available only for calendar years 1990 and later.
Table V.E2.—SSI Federally-Administered Blind or Disabled Individuals with SSI Recipient Status Participating
in Other Work Incentives as of December, 19902007
1 For years 1990 through 1996, data do not include PASS plans which exclude only resources.
Note: Working recipients participating in these other work incentives may be 1619(a) recipients, 1619(b) recipients or working recipients whose earnings are at or below the SGA level.
b. Average Earnings of Participants in Work Incentive Programs
In this section, we present historical data on average earnings of SSI working recipients. Table V.E3 pre­sents average earnings of SSI recipients categorized according to their section 1619 status.
Table V.E3.—Average Monthly Earnings of SSI Federally-Administered Blind or
Disabled Working Recipients, as of December, 1987‑2007  
workers 3
4 $124
4 $211
4 127
4 218
4 131
4 231
1In January, 1990, the SGA level was raised from $300 to $500 and section 1619(a) participants with earnings at or below $500 became eligible for regular SSI benefits rather than the special cash payments under section 1619(a). The SGA level was further increased to $700 in July 1999, with increases in 2001 and subsequent years based on increases in the national average wage index. In January 2008 the SGA level was increased to $940.
2Workers’ earnings are at or below the SGA level.
3 1619(b) recipients are not in current-payment status but retain SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes.
2. Vocational Rehabilitation/Ticket to Work Program
Provisions designed to make vocational rehabilitation (VR) services available to SSI blind or disabled recipients have been part of the SSI program since its inception. From the beginning, SSI recipients were referred to State VR agencies, which provided services to those recipients who were accepted as clients. Prior to 1981, SSA made block grants to VR agencies to fund services to disabled beneficiaries. The 1981 amendments changed this and established a “cost” reimbursement provision. VR agencies would be reimbursed for the cost of VR services furnished to blind or disabled SSI recipients only if the services resulted in the recipient returning to work. For reimbursement purposes, recipients are considered to have returned to work if they have had earnings exceeding the SGA level for 9 continuous months.
The 1984 amendments authorized reimbursement for cases2 where the recipient medically recovers while engaged in a program of rehabilitation services approved by SSA and SSA determines that continuation or completion of such a program would increase the likelihood the individual will be permanently removed from the rolls. Effective with the 1990 amendments, reimbursement for the cost of VR services was autho­rized for services provided in months in which the individual was not receiving Federal SSI benefits if the individual:
In 1994, the regulations were amended to include reimbursement to alternate private and non-State public VR providers (referred to as “alternate participants”) that provided VR services to recipients that a State VR agency had not accepted as clients. The alternate provider program has subsequently been replaced by the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program (Ticket to Work program) established by the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.
Under the Ticket to Work program, a disabled beneficiary may obtain vocational rehabilitation, employment and other support services from qualified private or public providers that are referred to as “Employment Networks” (ENs). The Ticket to Work program authorized the Commissioner to provide payments to ENs under either an outcome payment system or an outcome-milestone payment system. (State VR agencies were provided the option to elect on a case-by-case basis to be paid either under the traditional VR reimbursement system, or either the outcome or outcome-milestone payment system.) By expanding the pool of providers and giving the providers incentives for achieving success, this program expands access to these services for persons with disabilities to assist them in finding, entering, and retaining employment as well as reducing their dependence on cash benefits.
The Ticket to Work program was implemented on a State-by-State basis beginning in February 2002 and has been fully implemented nationwide since November 2003. As the Ticket to Work program was implemented in a State, the alternate provider and the traditional VR referral process described earlier were eliminated. SSA provided eligible individuals who received SSI benefits due to blindness or disability in such State with a Ticket to Work document (“ticket”). Beneficiaries who receive a ticket may use it to obtain from ENs or their State VR agencies vocational rehabilitation services, employment services and other support services needed to return to work or go to work for the first time. Individuals not eligible for a ticket may still request services from a State VR agency; the VR agency continues to decide whether each beneficiary is eligible for services under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The Ticket legislation required that SSA establish a corps of work incentives specialists to disseminate accurate information about work incentives. In addition, the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 mandated that SSA provide a work report receipt to the beneficiary. In response to these mandates, SSA:
In fiscal year 2003, established the Area Work Incentives Coordinator (AWIC) position and trained a total of 58 AWICs, with at least one AWIC being assigned to each Area Office. The AWIC position was created to improve the quality of employment support services provided to beneficiaries through training, outreach, and better coordination of support services. As of fiscal year 2008, there are 54 AWICs on duty.
In fiscal year 2004, released a web-based design application known as eWork that provides the Agency with a uniform electronic system to process and control title II return to work cases. Since eWork does not communicate with any title XVI systems, the Agency developed a web-based appli­cation, the SSI Monthly Wage Verification (SSIMWV), to process and control SSI work reports. The SSIMWV allows SSA employees to issue the mandated work report receipt in addition to processing the wage report. The SSIMWV was released nationally in November 2006.
In fiscal year 2006, SSA awarded cooperative agreements under the new Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program, which replaced and enhanced the former Benefits Planning, Assis­tance, and Outreach (BPAO) program. The WIPA program provides information as well as planning and assistance services in all States and Territories to SSA’s beneficiaries with disabilities who want to work.
In fiscal year 2003, AWIC employees provided refresher training on employment supports to the local Work Incentive Liaisons (WIL) located in each of the 1,335 local field offices. The systems application phase of this training was updated beginning in fiscal year 2004 with the release of eWork. Training has been provided to all direct service employees in field offices, teleservice centers and the payment process­ing centers. This training initiative was completed in November 2004.
AWICs have also been very active in participating in outreach activities in their local areas and continue to be the primary point of contact for public information outreach in the communities. They have strength­ened the relationship with our Ticket to Work partners: the ENs; WIPAs; Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies and Disability Program Navigators. AWICs also work closely with the regional Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) cadres in SSA to make joint educational presentations to the community about our employment support programs. The partnership has strengthened support of one of the objectives of the Ticket to Work program which is to educate the public about the benefits of returning to work and becom­ing self-sufficient. Presentations that have been made directly to persons with disabilities and/or entities that provide services to this target group include presentations at:
In 2008, SSA revised the Ticket to Work regulations to enhance beneficiary choice and improve the effectiveness of the program.  The revisions extended the program to all adult SSDI and SSI blind or disabled beneficiaries, removed disincentives for Employment Networks to participate in the program, provided incentives for them to support beneficiaries through a more gradual return to work and positioned them to better support ongoing retention of employment.
See section V.G.1.d for information on the evaluation of the Ticket to Work program.
Table V.E4 provides historical data on the number of reimbursement claims allowed and the amount of such awards for SSI recipients.
Amount 1
(in thousands)
(in thousands)
Amount 1
(in thousands)
1For concurrent title II/XVI claims, amounts shown represent title XVI portion of claim.
2For fiscal years 1987‑89, data on title II reimbursement claims involving concurrent title XVI reimbursement claims are not avail­able.
Note: Totals do not necessarily equal the sums of rounded components.

More detailed information on participation by SSI recipients in work incentive programs is provided in the SSI Annual Statistical Report. Pub. No. 13-11827, prepared by the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, Social Security Administration.

The 1980 amendments provided for benefit continuation for such SSI recipients who were continuing in a VR program after their disability had ceased. The provision was extended to blind recipients effective April, 1988.

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