facebook pixel

The Ticket to Work program: Navigating the journey between Social Security benefits and a return to the workforce

By Lauryn November 27, 2023

The Social Security Administration provides millions of Americans with a consistent source of income and financial stability. While these cash payments are vital for those unable to work due to an injury or illness or for workers who have retired after many years in the workforce, there are additional protections and incentives that come with receiving Social Security payments, particularly for the 8.7 million disabled workers and their dependents – including children and spouses – who receive benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance – or SSDI program.

Through the Social Security Disability Insurance program, beneficiaries can take advantage of the incentives through the Ticket to Work Program. The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton to launch incentives to help beneficiaries transition back into the workforce when the time is right. While returning to work and becoming financially self-sufficient is the end goal of the program, it was created to account for the different pathways each individual will take to get there.

There is a lot to consider when returning to work and much to know about the Ticket to Work program. For example, did you know you can continue receiving cash benefits when you return to work? Or that you can keep your healthcare coverage? We’ve compiled some of the most commonly asked questions related to Ticket to Work to answer these and other questions you may have as you begin your return to work journey!

Can I work and still receive my Social Security benefits?
Yes! Social Security established the Trial Work Period to help evaluate an individual’s ability to engage in full-time work as they head toward self-sufficiency. This Trial Work Period consists of a nine-month rolling period, within 60 months, in which an SSDI beneficiary can work and earn any amount of money without impacting their SSDI eligibility or cash benefits. Perhaps most importantly, these months do not need to be consecutive to allow beneficiaries to take their time in their return.

Once beneficiaries have completed their nine-month Trial Work Period, they move into a three-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). The EPE starts in the month after the Trial Work Period ends and continues for the next 36 months. During this time, cash benefits continue for any month when countable earned income is less than the current Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level. When countable wages exceed the SGA level, Social Security will plan to suspend benefits but will allow the beneficiary to receive a check for that month and for the two months following as a grace period. Cash benefits will be reinstated if the beneficiary’s countable earnings again fall below the SGA limit during the remaining months of the EPE.

Will my healthcare coverage remain intact if I return to work?
Yes! Should an individual’s SSDI benefits end as a result of work and earnings, but they continue to be impacted by impairments Social Security’s strict criteria for disability, Medicare coverage may continue for at least an additional seven and a half years. SSDI beneficiaries are entitled to continue their Medicare coverage through the entire Trial Work Period and for at least 93 months following their last Trial Work month. This means that SSDI beneficiaries who go to work can keep their Medicare coverage for at least 102 months! During this period, Part A hospital coverage is automatic and premium-free (for most beneficiaries), while Part B outpatient coverage is optional and subject to premium payment.

What happens if I start working but am unable to continue?
The Extended Period of Eligibility afforded to beneficiaries after they complete their full nine-month Trial Work Period protects their SSDI eligibility for 36 months. If, over the course of the three years following the end of benefits as a result of work and earnings, an individual will not need to file a new application for benefits should they like to restart cash payments. In this instance, the beneficiary will only need to file a request for reinstatement of benefits, saving them months, if not years, of waiting time for benefits to begin again. This Expedited Reinstatement can also provide beneficiaries up to six months of provisional benefits while the request is pending to help bridge the gap between ending work and the full reinstatement of SSDI benefits.

Taking the next step
Returning to the workforce after an absence can be an important part of an individual’s journey. At Brown & Brown Absence Services Group, we’ve witnessed firsthand the many intrinsic benefits that returning to work offers individuals, including improvements in quality of life and financial independence. If returning to work sounds like it might be the right fit for you, the Ticket to Work program should be your next step!

Please note that as of 2021, The Advocator Group now conducts business as Brown & Brown Absence Services Group. While our name may have changed, our commitment to excellent service and helping our clients in as many ways as possible has not.

Need help applying for SSDI?

Brown & Brown can help you better understand and take advantage of the many benefits of Social Security Disability, to help maximize your financial well-being during your period of disability.

Get a Free Evaluation