2012 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 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:
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.
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.E1 presents historical numbers of SSI recipients categorized according to their section 1619 status. Figure V.E1 presents this information in graphical form.
level a
workers   d
e 700
a 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.
b Includes disabled workers whose earnings are above SGA level.
c Includes blind workers in current-payment status and disabled workers whose earnings are at or below SGA level.
d 1619(b) recipients are not in current-payment status but retain SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes.
e Increased to $700 in July 1999.
Figure V.E1.—SSI Federally-Administered Blind or Disabled Working Recipients
as of December, 1987‑2011
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, 19902011

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.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, 1987‑2011 
workers c
d $124
d $211
d 127
d 218
d 131
d 231
a Worker's earnings are above the SGA level. See table V.E1 for yearly SGA levels.
b Disabled workers’ earnings are at or below the SGA level.
c 1619(b) recipients are not in current-payment status but retain SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes.
d Estimated.
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, 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 only if the services result in the recipient returning to work. For reimbursement purposes, we consider recipients to have returned to work if they have had earnings exceeding the SGA level for 9 continuous months.
The 1984 amendments authorized reimbursement for casesb 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. 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 vocational rehabilitation, employment and other support services from qualified private or public providers — “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.c 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.
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 a State, we eliminated the alternate provider and the traditional VR referral process described earlier. SSA provides eligible individuals who received SSI benefits due to blindness or disability in such a State with Ticket to Work services. Ticket-eligible beneficiaries may obtain vocational rehabilitation 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 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 2003, SSA established the Area Work Incentives Coordinator (AWIC) position and trained a total of 58 AWICs, assigning at least one AWIC to each Area Office. We created the AWIC position to improve the quality of employment support services provided to beneficiaries through training, outreach, and better coordination of support services. As of fiscal year 2012, there are 48 AWICs on duty.
In fiscal year 2004, SSA released eWork, a web-based design application that provides a uniform electronic system to process and control 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.
In fiscal year 2006, SSA awarded cooperative agreements in all States, the District of Columbia, and Territories 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 continues to provide accurate information about work incentive programs and other employment support services, as well as planning and assistance services, to beneficiaries with disabilities to support and facilitate their transition into the workforce.
In fiscal year 2003, AWIC employees provided refresher training on employment supports to the local Work Incentive Liaisons (WIL) located in each of the local field offices. Beginning in fiscal year 2004, SSA updated the systems application phase of this training with the release of eWork. We provided training to all direct service employees in field offices, teleservice centers and the payment processing centers. We completed this training initiative 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. We have made presentations directly to persons with disabilities and entities that provide services to this target group, including 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 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. Since we published the new regulations, SSA has noted promising trends:
In 2010, the number of beneficiaries receiving services under the Ticket to Work program who worked increased by 21 percent (from 96,993 to 117,124) over calendar year 2008.
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 VR agency reimbursement claims allowed and the amount of such awards for SSI recipients.
In a somewhat broader context of providing work incentives for disabled beneficiaries of both the OASDI and SSI programs, the President’s FY 2013 Budget contains a proposal to test a framework for simplifying the rather complicated array of work incentives available under the OASDI program. Under the proposed Work Incentives Simplification Program (WISP), we would treat earnings of OASDI disabled beneficiaries more like the treatment of earnings for SSI disabled adults under SSI.
Amount a
(in thousands)
(in thousands)
Amount a
(in thousands)
a For concurrent Title II/XVI claims, amounts shown represent Title XVI portion of claim.
b 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.E5 provides historical data on the number of Employment Network payments allowed and the amount of such payments for SSI recipients.
Amount b
(in thousands)
(in thousands)
Amount b
(in thousands)

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

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.

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