Employment and Social Security Benefits

Maintaining public benefits to cover medical care, food, shelter, and clothing are incredibly important for an individual with special needs. Also important is to live a life of purpose and structure.

Some adults with special needs find purpose and structure through employment.

However, this can get tricky. It may be hard to know if a job will be suitable or even doable. If it is not, the individual can find him/herself unemployed and without benefits. Fortunately, there are a few safety nets to protect the special needs adult so s/he can experience the perks of employment. Likewise, the community and employers can experience the advantages of hiring an individual with disabilities.  

The best-known program to explore employment is Ticket to Work.

It’s a bit complicated and involves more math than we feel like doing so be sure to click on the links throughout this article when your brain is ready. 

In a nutshell, Ticket to Work is set up so an individual can ease into employment without the risk of losing benefits if the job and individual are not compatible. This easing in phase is called the trial period and during the trial period an adult with disabilities can earn up to $780/month. The trial period ends if payroll exceeds $780 nine times in a 5 year period. Once the trial period is over, the clock resets to a three-year period of time where the individual can immediately regain benefits if less than $1,090/month is made. See, we told you a lot of numbers were involved. There are also annual limits and the numbers change if under 22 so, yeah, more numbers.

Go to the Social Security Administration website for the full scoop. 

The below video from SSA gives a nice overview of how the program works for men named Ben:


The Ticket to Work program utilizes service providers.

The easiest way to understand service providers is to think of how insurance works. Insurance can only be used at the doctors who are signed up as “providers” for the insurance company. Using a doctor outside of the provider list means the insurance (typically) can not be used.  Adding to the confusion, just like doctors provide different services, so do Ticket to Work providers. Similar to the way you search for the right doctor to use as a medical provider, is how you should search for a Ticket to Work Provider.

There are four types of providers and each type offers something different. Therefore, the first step is establishing the greatest need so as to know who to assign the ticket to. 

Below is a list of the 4 categories of providers. Click those highlighted to be directed to more information on the ticket to work website.

  • Employment Networks (EN) - are public or private organizations who partner with the social security administration to assist with job placement free of charge. Not all EN’s provide the same services so look around prior to assigning the ticket.

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (VR) - vary greatly from state to state and are typically for those in need of more significant services including education, training, and rehabilitation.

  • Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) - offer counseling and assistance in navigating work and benefits.

  • Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) - help with protecting rights, advocating for accommodations, and other legal barriers to employment.

The Choose Work website from the Social Security Administration is the bomb-diggity-bomb. It gives a thorough explanation of the pros and cons of the above provider types and even has a search portal to find one. The website is also where you can find webinars and tutorials.