The summer of 2007 felt like a bad dream for Terry Anderson. Reeling from a recent cancer diagnosis, she was downsized from the company where she’d worked for 11 years.
“There was no severance. I had no insurance,” she said. “I was terrified.”
Terry began receiving Social Security disability benefits and took an extended period of time away from work. Later, Terry learned about ‘one-stop career centers’ that provide free employment-related support services through Social Security’s Ticket to Work program to people receiving Social Security benefits. She decided to see what the Iowa Workforce Development Center, her local one-stop, had to offer. There are more than a thousand one-stop career centers across the nation.
The one-stop staff explained that the Ticket program is designed for people who receive Social Security disability benefits and are committed to achieving self-sufficiency through eventual full-time employment. Through the Ticket program, Iowa Workforce helped Terry coordinate her career preparation and job hunt. She updated her computer skills and built confidence in her prospects for long-term success.
“They offered workshops on interview skills,” she said. “I had my resume refurbished. I learned fresh strategies. At first, I was too proud to ask for help. I’m glad that I did.”
While Terry was eager to move on, she was apprehensive about finding work and losing her benefits. Terry learned about special Social Security rules called “work incentives,” that help people who receive disability benefits transition to the workforce and become financially self-sufficient.
For example, people receiving disability benefits can keep their Medicare coverage and their cash benefits while gaining work experience during the Trial Work Period. Terry was relieved to learn about another Work Incentive called ‘expedited reinstatement,’ allowing her Social Security cash benefits to restart without a new application if she has to stop work within five years because of her disability.
Another helpful Work Incentive, known as a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), allows Social Security disability recipients who meet the income rules for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to set aside money to pay for items or services they need to reach a specific work goal. These can include educational expenses, training, job-related transportation, business startup costs, tools and equipment, child-care costs and even the cost of job interview clothes. By approving a PASS, Social Security agrees to exclude certain income that would normally lower an SSI payment amount. At the same time, the person agrees to go to work, with the goal of eventually leaving disability benefits behind and becoming financially self-sufficient.
In 2009, Terry found work as a Loan Servicing Specialist and a second job in retail where she trains cashiers and enjoys interacting with customers. Terry was grateful that Social Security helped her “get through the storm.” She built a better life through work. She no longer receives Social Security disability benefits. “Now I’m healthy. I have two jobs. I love both of them. Life is good.”
With support from Ticket to Work and Iowa Workforce Development Center, Terry found her path to self-sufficiency. To learn more about the Ticket to Work program, call the Ticket to Work help line at 1-866-968-7842 (TTY/TTD, 1-866-833-2967) or visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work.
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Phylis Dills is a Social Security public affairs specialist at Little Rock.