2020 Annual Report of the SSI Program

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E. Incentives for Work and Opportunities for Rehabilitation
1. Work Incentives
Since the beginning of the Supplemental Security Income (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 designed to encourage work. The income exclusion for blind work expenses (BWE), plan to achieve self-support (PASS), and student earned income exclusion (SEIE) were among these provisions.
In the 1980 amendments to the Social Security Act, Congress provided additional incentives to help SSI disabled recipients become self-supporting. These incentives included:
Providing for the continuation of SSI payments for certain disabled individuals enrolled in vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs whose disability ceased due to medical recovery (extended to SSI blind recipients, effective April 1988);
1619(a) allows us to continue to provide cash payments when the recipient earns above substantial gainful activity (SGA), an earnings level that would have previously made them ineligible for any payment; and
1619(b) allows recipients to remain eligible for Medicaid when their earnings reduce their cash payment to $0.
Table V.E1 presents the historical SGA and SEIE amounts.
level b
c 700

Under current regulations, this amount increases yearly based on changes in the cost of living.

According to regulation, SSA bases increases in 2001 and subsequent years on increases in the national average wage index. SGA rules do not apply to blind recipients under the SSI program.

Increased to $700 in July 1999.

We discuss the incentives for work and opportunities for rehabilitation in more detail in section III.E. In the following tables, 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.E2 presents historical numbers of SSI recipients categorized according to their section 1619 status. Figure V.E1 presents this information in graphical form.
1619(a) workers a
Other workers  b
1619(b) workers   c

Includes disabled workers whose earnings are above SGA level.

Includes blind workers in current-payment status and disabled workers whose earnings are at or below SGA level.

1619(b) recipients are not in current-payment status but retain SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes.

Table V.E3 presents historical numbers of SSI recipients who benefit from other selected work incentive provisions: (1) PASS; (2) IRWE; and (3) 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.

For years 1990 through 1996, data do not include PASS plans that exclude only resources.

Note: Working recipients participating in these other work incentives may be 1619(a) recipients, 1619(b) recipients, or other working recipients.
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.E4 presents average earnings of SSI recipients categorized according to their section 1619 status.
d $124
d  $211

Workers’ earnings are above the SGA level. See table V.E1 for yearly SGA levels.

Disabled workers’ earnings are at or below the SGA level.

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 VR services available to SSI blind or disabled recipients have been part of the SSI program since its inception. From the beginning, the Social Security Administration (SSA) referred SSI recipients to State VR agencies, which provided services to those recipients they 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. Under this provision, we reimburse VR agencies for the cost of VR services furnished to blind or disabled SSI recipients who are successful in returning to work. For reimbursement purposes, we consider recipients to have “successfully” returned to work if they achieve SGA-level earnings for nine continuous months; or nine of 12 months if the reason for the non-SGA months was beyond the recipient's control and not related to their impairment.
The 1984 amendments authorized reimbursement for cases 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 permanently leave the rolls.2 The 1990 amendments authorized reimbursement for the cost of services the VR agencies provide in months in which the individual is not receiving Federal SSI benefits if the individual:
In 1994, SSA amended the regulations to include reimbursement to alternate private and non-State public VR providers (“alternate participants”) that provided VR services to recipients that a State VR agency had not accepted as clients. The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 subsequently replaced the alternate provider program with the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program (Ticket to Work program).
Under the Ticket to Work program, a disabled beneficiary may obtain VR, employment and other support services from qualified private or public providers — “Employment Networks” (EN). The Ticket to Work program authorizes the Commissioner to provide payments to ENs under either an outcome payment system or an outcome-milestone payment system.3 By expanding the pool of providers and giving the providers incentives for achieving success, this program provides 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.
Beginning in February 2002, SSA implemented the Ticket to Work program on a State-by-State basis and completed implementation in September 2004. As we implemented the Ticket to Work program in each State, we eliminated the alternate provider and the traditional VR referral process described earlier. SSA provides eligible individuals who receive SSI benefits due to blindness or disability in such a State with access to employment support services. Ticket-eligible beneficiaries may use the Ticket to obtain VR services, employment services, and other support services needed to return to work or go to work for the first time from ENs or their State VR agencies. 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 to Work program 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. SSA responded to these mandates with the following actions:
In fiscal year 2004, SSA released eWork, a web-based design application that provides a uniform electronic system to process and control Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) return to work cases. Since eWork does not communicate with any SSI systems, SSA 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. We released SSIMWV nationally in November 2006.
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 program partners. AWICs also work closely with the regional 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. We have made presentations directly to persons with disabilities and organizations that provide services to this target group, including presentations at:
Work Incentives Seminar Events4
In 2008, we 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 OASDI disabled 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.b for information on the evaluation of the Ticket to Work program.
Table V.E5 provides historical data on the number of VR agency reimbursement claims allowed and the amount of such awards for SSI recipients.
In the broader context of helping people with disabilities remain in the workforce, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 renewed SSA's authority to conduct demonstration projects involving the Disability Insurance program. SSA expects these new demonstrations to affect the SSI program since there are a large number of SSI recipients who concurrently receive Disability Insurance benefits. Many policies have been proposed that have the potential to achieve long-term gains in the employment and quality of life of people with disabilities. SSA is also exploring early-intervention measures, such as supportive employment services for individuals with mental impairments.
Amount a
(in thousands)
Amount  a 
(in thousands)

For concurrent Title II/XVI claims, amounts shown represent Title XVI portion of claim.

For 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.
Table V.E6 provides historical data on the number of Employment Network payments allowed and the amount of such payments for SSI recipients.
Table V.E6.—Employment Network Payments Allowed, Fiscal Years 2002‑2019a 
Amount c
(in thousands)
Amount c
(in thousands)

Does not include reimbursements to State VR agencies for Tickets assigned under the VR cost-reimbursement option.

Beginning in 2016, reflects a revised process used to identify payments to Employment Network service providers.

For concurrent Title II/XVI payments, amounts shown represent Title XVI portion of the payments.

Less than $500.
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 ended. Lawmakers extended the provision to blind recipients effective April 1988.

State VR agencies may elect on a case-by-case basis to receive payment under the traditional VR reimbursement system or as an EN under the outcome or outcome-milestone payment system.

Work Incentives Seminar Events are now hosted via a national monthly webinar format rather than as local, in-person events.

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