Social Security Disability: Ticket to Work Helped Some Attendees, But Overpayments Increased Program Cost – Community News
Social Security

Social Security Disability: Ticket to Work Helped Some Attendees, But Overpayments Increased Program Cost

What GAO thought

Beneficiaries with disabilities participate in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Ticket to Work and Self-Supply Program by assigning a “ticket” to service providers who, in turn, provide job assistance. SSA compensates the service providers when Ticket to Work participants achieve certain levels of work and income. Using SSA data from 2002, when the program began, through 2018, the most recent year available, GAO estimated that 5 years after starting Ticket to Work, participants’ average earnings were $2451 more per year than those of comparable non-participants. However, the majority of the participants remained unemployed 5 years after Ticket to Work started.

Based on GAO’s analysis, Ticket to Work costs surpassed disability benefit savings to SSA by an estimated $806 million from 2002 to 2015, the most recent year with reliable savings data. Savings accrue when Ticket to Work participants receive lower benefits or leave the disability list due to employment income. GAO estimates that participants were slightly more likely to leave the roles (9.7 percent) than non-participants who are similar across a range of characteristics such as age, gender, disability type, and education level (8.6 percent). A greater percentage of participants left the disability list because of work rather than for other reasons, such as medical improvement (see image).

Percentage of Beneficiaries Leaving SSA’s Disability Benefit, 5 Years After Starting the Ticket to Work Versus Comparable Non-Participants, by Reason, 2002-2015

Percentage of Beneficiaries Leaving SSA's Disability Benefit, 5 Years After Starting the Ticket to Work Versus Comparable Non-Participants, by Reason, 2002-2015

Note: Percentages are calculated for Ticket to Work participants who started the program from 2002 to 2010, 5 years after they started Ticket to Work, and for a sample of comparable non-participants. Parts may not add up due to rounding.

GAO estimates that SSA incurred an additional $133 million to $169 million in costs (above $806 million) from overpaid disability benefits to Ticket to Work participants. Overpayments can occur when beneficiaries who work fail to report their earnings to SSA or SSA delays in adjusting their benefit amounts. SSA incurs costs when it allows a beneficiary to keep overpayments or spend funds to recover them. GAO estimates that 5 years after starting the program, Ticket to Work participants were more than twice as likely to be overpaid than non-participants. While SSA investigates the root causes of overpayments in its benefit programs, it has not focused on overpayments among Ticket to Work participants, who face unique circumstances because of their links with service providers. For example, participants may mistakenly believe that service providers report their earnings to SSA. Addressing the root causes of overpayments among Ticket to Work participants would reduce reimbursement burdens for affected participants and increase savings for SSA and taxpayers.

Why GAO Did This Study?

SSA pays billions of dollars in disability insurance and supplemental safety income benefits to people with disabilities. To help beneficiaries find work and reduce dependence on disability benefits, Ticket to Work was founded in 1999. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 contains a provision for GAO to study the effects of the program.

This report examines, among other things, the extent to which Ticket to Work has led to higher earnings and other benefits for participants, and how the costs and savings of Ticket to Work compare over time. GAO conducted statistical analysis of SSA beneficiary data, analysis of Ticket to Work costs, a literature search, and interviews with program officials, service provider representatives and disability policy experts.